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Power Plants Need Aid, Not Financial Burden SO2 Emissions From Most Power Plants Already In Control: Invest In Made In India Technology To Reduce Particulate Matter Pollution And Not On Forex Guzzling Fgds

NTPC in its submission to the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) stated that it will require additional capital expenditure - Rs 0.78 to 0.86 crore per megawatt (MW) () to install FGD.

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India meets bulk of its electricity requirement from coal fired power. According to data from the national load despatch centre, the share of electricity procurement from coal-fired power in India’s energy currently stood at 63% in May, while the contribution of clean energy sources—solar, wind and hydroelectric power rose to 28%.

MOEFCC in its endeavour to reduce emissions of Particulate Matter (PM), Sulphur-di-Oxide (SO2), and Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) from coal fired thermal power plants (TPPs) has notified the Environment (Protection) Amendment Rules (EPAR).  The notification required TPPs to install Flue Gas Desulfurisers (FGDs) by December 2017 which was later extended to December 2022 by the Honourable Supreme Court of India.

The time extension to install FGDs was necessitated because even Government-owned TPPs had not placed orders for Flue Gas Desulfurisers (FGDs) till December 2017 and FGD installation takes at least 24-36 months. It highlighted the fact that MoEFCC had issued the notification without considering crucial operational and financial aspects of implementing such an order. This include dependence on foreign entities for technology transfer as well as supply of critical equipment. 

According to CEA report on FGDs, only 4 TPP units have installed FGDs and 100 TPPs (including 73 government owned plants) have ordered FGD equipment till date. This is out of the 441 TPP units which are mandated to install FGDs. The report further reveals that considering the time required (24-36 months) to design, install, and commission the FGDs, more than 340 TPPs cannot meet the 2022 deadline.

NTPC in its submission to the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) stated that it will require additional capital expenditure - Rs 0.78 to 0.86 crore per megawatt (MW) () to install FGD. Additionally, its retrofitting will increase the auxiliary power consumption of the TPP by 1.7 – 2 percent thereby increasing the specific coal consumption and CO2 emissions.

Further, FGDs impose additional operating costs to operate and maintain the system and increase the water requirement of TPPs. Also, the shutdowns of operating TPPs (for retrofitting the FGDs) will result in revenue losses for already stressed TPPs, increase power procurement cost of DISCOMs resulting in power tariff hike. 

Most of the state GENCOs and IPPs are not in good financial health which do not allow them to make these costly investments. In this regard, any support from the Central Government is also unlikely  even though it is collecting more than ₹280 billion on account of coal cess (@ ₹400 per ton) which was originally introduced in 2010 inter alia to finance clean energy initiatives but has been subsumed into the GST compensation fund from 2017-18. 

There is little scope for any kind of financial assistance from the State Governments which are already in a bad shape and the GENCOs that are now saddled with nearly Rs. 1.2 trillion of overdue payments from the DISCOMs.  This may force several operating TPPs to shut down in an unplanned manner if the deadline of December 2022 is not extended by the Government.

FGD is not a panacea to all environment issues related to conventional power generation plants. It may cause collateral damage on the environment with incremental mining and transportation of limestone, additional water requirement, burning of more coal to meet the auxiliary power requirement, and generation of Gypsum (a by-product with heavy metals) which creates its own issues related to waste disposal. This is not all, FGDs will enhance specific CO2 emissions thereby negating the success of GENCOs in reducing specific CO2 emissions by enhancing the use of supercritical technology.

The main objective of FGD is to limit SO2 emissions from TPPs. However, it seems MoEFCC has overlooked an important fact that Indian coals have lower Sulphur content compared to imported coal. Similarly, MoEFCC might have discounted the fact that height of TPP chimneys (220 – 275 meters) mandated by CPCB) and the exit velocity of flue gases are designed to disperse SO2 concentration below the ambient air quality standards under Indian tropical conditions. The efficacy of the CPCB standard regarding chimney heights for TPPs is demonstrated in / by ambient SO2 levels (less than the 24-hour standard of 80 mg/m3 specified by CPCB) around most TPPs operated by power utilities in India.

Reduction of particulate matter (PM) pollution be the area of focus for MoEFCC / MoP rather than SO2. This makes sense as made-in-India electrostatic precipitators (ESPs) can reduce PM pollution by more than 99.7 percent without major capital investments. On the other hand, FGDs have an import content exceeding 50 percent and involve outflows of foreign exchange to the tune of Rs.40,000 crores besides their impact on CO2 emissions, water consumption and power tariffs.

FGD, in its current form, undermines the whole idea of environmental pollution control. The point is to strengthen existing environment protection measures in place through effective pollution control measures.

India needs a science-based, need based environment protection measures to check harmful impact of conventional power projects. The task is to develop rules and regulations that are economically sustainable and enables both economic activity and environmental well-being.

And towards this, the Ministries of Coal, Power, and MoEFCC must work together to expedite the utilization of indigenous pollution control measures such as coal beneficiation and high-efficiency ESPs and made-in-India FGDs for TPPs located in urban/sensitive/critically polluted areas where ground level concentration of SO2 is really a concern. This will not only help the power sector to breathe easy but also embody the true spirit of Atmanirbhar Bharat.