It has been 43 years since the 705 megawatt (MW) Badarpur Thermal Power Station (BTPS) has been generating electricity in the heart of the national capital. It has been nearly a decade since the plant has been underperforming, polluting and making Delhiites pay more towards their power bills.
The BTPS has not only outlived the 25-year shelf life of a coal fired plant, it has also stealthily and adversely affected the lives of over 1.67 crore people in the city. To mitigate the increase in air pollution, the plant was shut in November last year and is set to open on Thursday.
Despite such temporary closures, there still are enough reasons for the BTPS to be permanently locked down. When operational, the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) runs two of the five units of the plant and generates only around 160 MW.
While the environmental hazards posed by the plant are in public domain, what is not being talked about is if its closure will have an impact on Delhi’s energy dynamics.
A major polluter
As much as 11% of Delhi’s ultra-fine respirable particles or PM 2.5 is contributed by the plant alone. To add to it, 26% of the city’s PM 2.5 levels comprise coal and flyash which are emitted from the plant, states a report titled ‘Comprehensive Study on Air Pollution and Green House Gases in Delhi’ by IIT Kanpur.
Worse off are the residents living in South Delhi areas like Greater Kailash and Okhla as they are just about 5 miles away from the plant which makes them constantly exposed to harmful pollutants.
The NTPC that runs the plant has maintained that its particulate matter emission has now come down to the prescribed standard of 50 mg/m3. But, the action seems to have come too late.
It was only in March, 2016 that the NTPC actually installed Pollution Control Devices (PCDs) in two units of the 5-unit plant. This too was only after the Delhi government had asked for shutting the plant owing to rise in pollution levels.
Could reduce power bills
Delhi government, distribution companies and experts say that in a city that always has surplus power, shutting the Badarpur plant once and for all won’t affect much.
In fact, permanently closing BTPS would be a better option as consumers would have to pay around 20 paise less per unit for electricity if the plant is shut. It means that 84% of the city’s consumers who use up to 400 units of power every month could end up saving up to Rs 80 on their bills. This will be over and above the 50% subsidy already being given to those under the slab. The figure will vary according to the amount of energy consumed.
“Shutting fuel-guzzling plants like Badarpur could help in lowering power tariffs. But, it’s here that completing projects on time assumes significance. Building a sub-station at Tughlaqabad, which would leave the BTPS redundant, has seen repeated delays. At the same time two-three projects of Delhi Transco Limited (DTL) are also languishing which is partly because discoms are not paying up,” said Pramod Deo, former Chairman, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC).
Written communication between discoms, Delhi government, DERC and the Centre reveal that shutting the plant permanently will help discoms save Rs 1,100 crore per annum.
“The plant is the most expensive in the entire portfolio of Delhi discoms with the total cost of power from the plant being in the range of Rs 5 to Rs 5.5 per unit… Every year, close to 2,000 MUs (million units) from BTPS are scheduled forcefully by SLDC (State Load Dispatch Centre) to Delhi,” a recent letter sent to DERC by one of the three discoms stated.
The average cost of power procured from other sources range from Rs 2.5 to Rs 3 which is over 45% lesser than what BTPS is offering. Even when the plant is temporarily shut, power utilities continue to pay the fixed costs which ultimately reflect in the tariffs.
However, even if Delhi has surplus power and all stakeholders agree in shutting BTPS, the plant still cannot be closed as it continues to feed a few areas in South which becomes crucial during summers. “We have no option but to wait till the Tughlaqabad sub-station is ready,” said Varsha Joshi, secretary (power) of the Delhi government.
While most environmentalists want the plant to be shut for good, it will continue to run at least in summer months till government agencies can cut through the red tape to help in providing cleaner air for Delhi to breathe.