A view of Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Power Plant and its cooling ponds in Bathinda, Punjab.(Sanjeev Kumar/HT Archive)
A view of Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Power Plant and its cooling ponds in Bathinda, Punjab.(Sanjeev Kumar/HT Archive)

CEA proposes relaxing air pollution control deadline for thermal power plants

Other thermal power plants, located in areas where S02 levels are under control, can defer the installation of such equipment, the CEA said in a new report, which comes just two years before the deadline set by the environment ministry for all coal-fired power plants to meet safe emission norms.
By Jayashree Nandi | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 13, 2020 11:08 AM IST

The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has proposed that coal-fired power plants across the country install air pollution control equipment in phases, with their immediate installation required only in areas with high levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2), a by-product of the burning of fossil fuels and a major respiratory irritant.

Other thermal power plants, located in areas where S02 levels are under control, can defer the installation of such equipment, the CEA said in a new report, which comes just two years before the deadline set by the environment ministry for all coal-fired power plants to meet safe emission norms.

Deferring the installation of air pollution control equipment can lead to delays in reducing air pollution concentrations across the country, according to experts.

SO2 forms sulfate aerosols that caused the Great Smog of London in 1952 and has been responsible for smog episodes in China and India. Sulfates makes up over 10% of the fine particles in both Asian countries and often much more during heavy pollution episodes.

India is already three years behind in implementing emission standards notified in 2015 by the environment ministry and which were supposed to take force in 2017.

The deadline was delayed to 2022 following resistance by the thermal power industry. The environment ministry agreed to extend the deadline to 2022 and approached the SC, which also ordered an extension.

But a CEA report seen by HT recommends that flue-gas desulphurization (FGD)—a technology to remove SO2 from exhaust be installed on a priority basis only in areas where SO2 concentrations are above 40 micrograms per cubic metres (24-hour average).

The report doesn’t address the issue of SO2 emissions’ contribution to generation of secondary particulate matter 2.5, a major pollutant in the air that has been identified as a major health challenge by scientists.

“Sulphur dioxide when emitted, as it travels because of atmospheric chemistry, turns into particulate matter in the presence of ammonia. It has been found that sulphate levels in many parts of the country are high, which is why controlling SO2 is important,” said Mukesh Sharma, a professor in the department of civil engineering at Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur.

SO2’s contribution to particulate pollution has been overlooked in the CEA report. In 2017, a paper in Nature journal warned of the rising SO2 problem in India. The paper, titled India Is Overtaking China as the World’s Largest Emitter of Anthropogenic Sulfur Dioxide, said China and India are on opposite trajectories when it comes to sulphurous pollution. Since 2007, emissions in China have declined by 75% while those in India have increased by 50%. With these changes, India has been surpassing China as the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic SO2.

Some of the reasons for phasing the installation of pollution control equipment, particularly FGD, cited by CEA in the report include lack of time to develop indigenous manufacturing facilities; the need to import the equipment which creates a market for mainly foreign companies and an investment of 1 lakh crore needed for large-scale emissions control from thermal power plants. This will lead to a drain on foreign exchange resources, the report says.

China began installation of desulphurization equipment in 1996 and by 2015, 83% of its total thermal power capacity was fitted with emission control equipment. The report suggests that the ministry of power held a meeting on January 21, 2020 where it was decided that CEA will submit a paper on graded installation of FGDs which will then be taken up by the ministry of power with the ministry of environment.

“The MoP has to discuss these timelines with the environment ministry and only then can they be implemented,” said a senior CEA official who declined to be identified.

“It is worrying to see CEA coming up with illogical and unscientific arguments to dilute the implementation of norms after five years of the notification and after it was given the job of monitoring and ensuring implementation of the 2015 norms,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

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