Thermal power plants get 2-year extension to meet sulphur dioxide norms

Updated on Sep 07, 2022 01:46 AM IST

In a notification issued on Monday, the environment ministry extended the timeline to meet SO2 norms to December 31, 2027, for units which are scheduled to retire, and December 31, 2026, for plants that will continue operations beyond that period.

The emission norms to control of particulate matter, SO2, nitrogen oxides and mercury from coal-fired power plants were notified in December 2015, which had a deadline of December 2017.
The emission norms to control of particulate matter, SO2, nitrogen oxides and mercury from coal-fired power plants were notified in December 2015, which had a deadline of December 2017.
ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi

Thermal power plants have been given an additional two years to install equipment to minimise the emissions of sulphur dioxide, a greenhouse gas, after they failed to meet the deadline to comply yet again.

In a notification issued on Monday, the environment ministry extended the timeline to meet SO2 norms to December 31, 2027, for units which are scheduled to retire, and December 31, 2026, for plants that will continue operations beyond that period.

The ministry has already given two extensions to the coal-fired power plants for meeting SO2 and other pollution norms. The emission norms to control of particulate matter, SO2, nitrogen oxides and mercury from coal-fired power plants were notified in December 2015, which had a deadline of December 2017.

In 2017, the ministry gave the plants extension until 2022 to comply with the emission standards. Power plants in the national capital region were given a tighter deadline of 2020 to meet the SO2 standards. Following no progress on compliance, the deadline was extended again in March 2021, when it was pushed to 2025.

The ministry amended rules allowing thermal power plants within 10km of the national capital region and in cities with more than 1 million population to comply with new emission norms by the end of 2022 as against 2020, HT reported on April 3 last year.

Thermal power plants within 10km radius of critically polluted areas or in cities that did not meet the annual national standard for particulate matter emissions from 2011 to 2015 were allowed to meet the standards by December 31, 2023, and the remaining were given time till December 31, 2024. This time, the two-year extension has been given only for SO2, but the timelines for other pollutants remain the same as notified in March last year.

The move has been criticised by experts.

“As of February 2021, only about 68.7 GW of the total installed capacity of 169.7 GW had been awarded bids for installing flue gas desulphurization (FGD), the process of removing sulphur compounds from the exhaust emissions of fossil-fueled power stations,” said Sunil Dahiya, analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, a think tank.

“Only 2.2 GW capacity power plants had by then installed FGDs since the announcement of emission standards in 2015. With the latest notification, a further delay in implementation is awarded with another extension rather than fines or shutdowns,” Dahiya said. “Out of the total installed capacity of 211.6 GW, 85.7 GW have awarded the bids, and only 8.3 GW have installed FGD as of August 2022.”

“While the norms for other pollutants remains similar to last year’s notification, they were either diluted in 2018 and 2020 from 2015 limits or required little or no modification,” he added. “It’s SO2 norms and their timeline extension which is a matter of concern as SO2 through sulphate formation makes a significant part of PM2.5 and results into huge public health and economic damage.”

The fact that another extension has been given shows that the emission norms will never be implemented, said Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer.

“All power plants were required to achieve the target for emission standards by December 2017. All missed the target on one pretext or the other. Now, it has been further extended,” Dutta said. “Unfortunately, the environment ministry has become an advisory ministry rather than a regulatory ministry. Rather than taking punitive action against violators, all that it is doing is succumbing to the dictates of other ministries.”

“Instead of indefinitely delaying implementation of SO2 norms, the ministry should focus on developing a strategy to ensure thermal power plants meet the norms in a time-bound manner,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at Centre for Science and Environment, an advocacy group.

The power ministry had approached the environment ministry last year, seeking an extension of the deadline, citing the Covid-19 disruptions.

“We cannot give the exact reasons, but the industry requires time to install the pollution control equipment,” an environment ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

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