Thermal plants fail to comply with NGT directive amid shortage of biofuel - Hindustan Times
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Thermal plants fail to comply with NGT directive amid shortage of biofuel

Mar 26, 2022 01:18 AM IST

Chandigarh: Amid an acute shortage of alternative fuel stocks, thermal plant operators are unable to comply with the NGT orders calling for 5-10% usage of biomass pellets alongside coal for power generation

Chandigarh: Amid an acute shortage of alternative fuel stocks, thermal plant operators are unable to comply with the NGT orders calling for 5-10% usage of biomass pellets alongside coal for power generation.

Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Power Plant at Bathinda
Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Power Plant at Bathinda

If one looks at the total quantity of coal that thermal plants in the state use, at least 3,300 tonnes of biomass pellets are required as an alternative fuel, but the total production is just a few hundred tonnes. The daily requirement of coal for five thermal plants in the state is 67,000 tonnes.

To improve the air quality in the national capital region, the Centre in October 2021 launched the Sustainable Agrarian Mission to use agri-residue in thermal power plants (SAMARTH), under which a detailed plan for ex-situ paddy straw management through its utilisation in coal-based thermal power plants was rolled out by the NGT.

Punjab produces 20 million tonnes of paddy straw every kharif harvest season, out of which a major chunk is set on fire to get rid of the crop residue to prepare the fields for the next crop. It leads to major environment hazard forming a layer of smog over the north Indian states, particularly Delhi.

Four out of five thermal plants in Punjab – two owned by Punjab State Power Corporation Limited in Lehra Mohabbat and Ropar and two privately owned in Talwandi Sabo and Rajpura -- were included in the mission.

The firing of these biomass pellets has been recognised as “change in law” by the union ministry. However, for the thermal plants in the Punjab, it is yet to be approved by the state electricity regulatory commission.

“From every two quintals of paddy straw, one quintal of biomass pellet (torrefied coal) is manufactured. We have raw material to manufacture 20,000 tonnes of pellets every day, but the capacity of pellet units is less,” said Ajit Rao, who operates a pellet manufacturing unit in Ludhiana.

He added that not many orders were being placed by thermal plants as the PSPCL has so far raised a total demand of 6,000 tonnes.

The biomass fuel is costlier than coal, but if land is available adjacent to thermal plants, the torrefied fuel can be supplied at the cost equivalent to the land cost of coal.

As per data, the thermal plant in Talwandi Sabo has invited tenders to buy 75,000 tonnes of biofuel and Rajpura has also invited tenders for daily supply of 800 tonnes, but it managed to get only 50 tonnes.

According to sources in the PSPCL, an efficient supply chain to ensure sufficient bio pellets is not yet in place in Punjab. Besides, the commercial implications arising out of the utilisation of bio pellets has also not been taken into consideration, which is also posing a challenge.

The authorities have mandated that these biomass pellets should have 50% content of crop residue, however, it is not known which government agency will certify the crop residue.

Sources in the PSPCL stated that the use of pellets has been made mandatory and plants not using it face penalty and possible closure, which can result in a power blackout in Punjab. Reportedly, the NGT has issued notices to three thermal plants, including two PSPCL owned, for not complying with the tribunal’s orders.

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