Nearly 90 per cent of the country’s coal-fired power generation capacity is in violation of emission norms notified two years ago that will kick in December this year. In June this year, the Union Power Ministry informed the Union Environment Ministry, via a letter, that 165.9 GW out of the total of 187.1 GW — or 89 per cent — of the country’s existing coal-based power capacity is not in compliance with the Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) emission limits that were notified in 2015.
However, it has said that existing plants of 146 GW, along with under construction plants of 67 GW, are ready to install SO2 emission curbing systems, but that will take an investment of more than Rs 1 lakh crore. This will result in consumers paying an additional Rs 23,660 crore annually through a tariff hike of 32 paise per unit.
Even though the 2015 norms stated that all existing coal-based plants need to follow emission limits by December 7 this year, the Power Ministry stated that it will take seven years to “retro-fit” Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD) systems — which remove SO2 from exhaust flue gases — in the existing capacity. It also said that the remaining 19.9 GW of the aforementioned 165.9 GW capacity either does not have “space” or is “not interested” in installing FGD systems. And that a plan regarding installation of FGD systems in the plants under construction is yet to be decided.
Sources said both ministries have met one time after this letter was sent but even with three months left before the deadline, there has been no decision on the way forward.
The 2015 norms specified emission limits for Oxides of Nitrogen (NOX). However, for coal-based units installed before December 2003, the Power Ministry has asked the Environment Ministry to defer implementing these NOX emission limits by three years. For units installed after December 2003, it has requested that it be allowed to operate them at higher NOX emission limit of 600 mg/Nm3 (milligrams per cubic metre) for three years because the state-run NTPC Ltd is currently conducting a “pilot study” to test if “NOX control technology” will work for “Indian coal” that has “high ash content”.
Experts say that short-term exposures to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to effects of SO2. NOX, too, can trigger “serious respiratory problems”. Moreover, both SO2 and NOX can be easily oxidised within airborne water droplets to form acid precipitation or ‘acid rain’. There were no SO2 and NOX emission norms in India before December 7, 2015.
On June 30, 2017, the then power secretary P K Pujari sent Environment Secretary A N Jha a letter along with a report “outlining the plan of action for implementation of the new norms”.
Pujari, asking for an extension of deadline, stated in his report: “Generation from coal based thermal power plants during 2016-17 was 910 BU (billion units), out of total generation of 1242 BU (73 per cent). 65 per cent of country’s total generation was from capacity which is non-compliant to new emission norms in terms of SO2 emission. These capacities would be off the grid in case of non-compliant capacities are not permitted to operate resulting in acute power supply deficit. Hence, there would be requirement of extension of timelines.”
On June 30, 2017, then Power Secretary P K Pujari sent Environment Secretary A N Jha a letter with a report “outlining the plan of action for implementation of the new norms”.
In his letter, Pujari asked Jha to “consider the suggestions made in the enclosed report” and “once the report is studied by Ministry of Environment and Forests, it may be discussed in a joint meeting to finalize the way forward”. In his 30 letter, Pujari proposed a plan to bring 165.9 GW of coal based capacity in compliance with the new emission norms by 2024. He said that 373 units of power plants — having a total 146 GW capacity — have given their implementation plan to install FGD.
He said that under this plan, a “transition time period of 7 years” would be required to bring 373 units in compliance “with new SO2 norms”.
Under this plan, 10 units of 4880 MW capacity would install FGD during 2019; 41 units of 21980 MW capacity would install FGD during 2020; and so on. This power ministry’s plan is similar to the roadmap released by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) on May 25 this year.
In his report, Pujari also said that the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) may allow a hike in consumer tariff in order to compensate power companies for their expenditure on FGD installation.
Jha as well as current Power Secretary A K Bhalla did not respond to queries sent by The Indian Express.
In the list of units non-compliant with new SO2 emission norms are Adani Power, Reliance Power and Tata Power. The list also included the names of units of public sector companies such as NTPC Ltd and Maharasthra State Power Generation Company Limited (Mahagenco).
Asked when will it be able to comply with 2015 norms, Tata Power said: “We are in constant touch with the Government and would respect the reasonable timelines decided jointly by MOP (Ministry of Power) and MOEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change).” Adani Power Limited told The Indian Express: “All Adani Units are geared up towards making the units compliant with the 2015 environment norms and adhere to the action plan developed by CEA.” Reliance Power, NTPC Ltd and Mahagenco did not reply to queries sent by The Indian Express.