‘Non-compliance to emission control measures at power plants put health at risk’
Only six units at two coal-based power plants out of 12 have installed sulfur dioxide control devices in the 300km radius of Delhi and the national capital region even after six years of emission standard notification being notified in December 2015.
Air Pollution across north India is a globally known health hazard that causes huge health and economic burden on its citizens. Various researchers have estimated contribution from a multitude of pollution sources contributing to the pollution levels in north India; amongst them, the contribution of coal-based power generation to air pollutant concentration varies between 2-25 % depending on the scope of the research, geography, time period considered for estimation of impacts and methodology adopted by the researchers.
Last month, Commission for Air Quality Management directed all power plants — except five, including Rajiv Gandhi thermal power plant (NTPC Jhajjar), Rajiv Gandhi thermal power plant in Hisar, Panipat thermal power plant (HPGCL), Rajpura TPP (Nabha Power Ltd.), and Talwandi Sabo thermal power station (Mansa) — to stay shut till November 30, owing to hazardous air quality in the national capital region. The directions were further extended till December 15 as the air quality remained in the adverse range.
An analysis by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) highlights that the operation of power plants in Delhiand the national capital region can be better regulated to meet power demand for the region without operating polluting non-compliant power plants during winter months.
The analysis shows that coal-based power plants in the 300km radius of Delhi-NCR generated negligible or no electricity between November 14 and November 23, 2020, when electricity demand ranged between 175MUs-275MUs and the shortage remained in the range of 0-MUs (0.65% of highest demand day, November 20, 2020) indicating that the region could meet any such or lower demands without operating coal-based power plants in the 300km radius.
“The directions issued by CAQM fall short because all other power plants were anyway not operated since November 12, 2021, due to low demand or other reasons, so the action could not effectively result in any emission load reductions. Four units at Dadri Power Plant, which have flue gas desulfurisation (FGD) controls installed, were also directed to close by CAQM. In contrast, others without SO2 controls were allowed to operate, meaning relatively higher emissions and pollution. Instead, the four units at Dadri that have installed SO2 controls could have been allowed at the place of others who do not have FGD installed,” said the analysis.
In December 2015, acknowledging the contribution of coal-based power plants to air pollution, the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change came out with a stricter emission standard notification for coal-based power plants and required them to retrofit with efficient pollution control technologies to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and Hg emissions in two years. At the same time, the notification also set a limit for water consumption for the power plants.
The power plant operators did not follow the initial deadline of two years (by December 7, 2017), and it was extended to December 31, 2019. All units except two units at Mahatma Gandhi thermal power plant violated the emission limits from January 2020 to March 2021 when another extension was granted. As a result of the latest extension, the power plants in Delhi-NCR now have a time limit for the installation of sulfur dioxide controls pushed to December 2022, five years after the lapse of the first timeline and seven years since the announcement of the notification.
Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at CREA said that the power plants with sulfur dioxide controls should be operated at maximum capacity to reduce the need for power plants without FGD control.
“Power plants which haven’t awarded the bids for FGD installation till now should be penalized as one year left to comply even under new extended timeline isn’t enough for them to complete the process which will again leave them in non-compliance," Dahiya further said.
The analyst stressed air quality forecasting system should be better utilised by CAQM and the Central Pollution Control Board of India to take science-based decisions towards reducing emission load, and arrangements for power supply should be made so that the non-compliant power plants can be shut down during the winter months.