An amending ministry of environment gives coal-fired power plants full permission to pollute: CSE

The modified notification favors the operation of old inefficient coal-fired power plants, which can continue to operate indefinitely while paying a nominal penalty.

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change (MOEF & CC) on April 1, 2021 extended the deadlines for the majority of coal-fired power plants in India to meet the emission standards for another three to four years. This is the third amendment to the notice, which first appeared in 2015.

Following the 2015 announcement, all power plants were given a fixed deadline of December 2017 to compulsorily meet the standards. However, after the deadline for 2017 approached, the Union Ministry of Power presented another introductory plan to MoEF & CC and requested a further extension of another seven years, i.e. until 2024 to meet the standards.

After several deliberations, another five-year extension was given to power plants to meet the deadlines in stages until December 2022.

It is already 2021 and only a third of the plants have taken serious initiatives to meet the 2015 emission standards. Various stakeholders expected MoEF & CC to take a difficult stance on non-compliant plants; but with the recent amendment, it is clear that the Union government is hardly bothering the health of its citizens and is very much in favor of the polluters.

The new news has been edited to show how serious MoEF & CC is about disrespect; the detailed analysis of the news concludes that the ministry of environment has granted a license to coal thermal power plants to continue to pollute by paying a small penalty.

The amount is much lower than what it would cost companies to invest in installing pollution control equipment, so it almost means a license to pollute, said Sunita Narain, CEO of Center for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi. based think tank.

What does the new news say?

The power stations, according to the amendment, are divided in three categories:

  • Category A consisting of plants within a 10-kilometer radius of the National Capital Region (NCR) or cities with a million inhabitants. Power plants in this category will have to meet the standards immediately before next year (ie December 2022)
  • Category B plants that are within a 10 km radius of critically polluted areas or out-of-reach cities. They must meet the standards by 2023/2025.
  • The rest of the plants are included in Category C and receive an extension until 2024/2025.

The 2021 amendment introduced for the first time a punitive mechanism. The maximum fine after a deadline break for non-retired plants in Category A is 20 paisa per unit; 15 paisa per unit for plants in Category B; and 10 paisa per unit for those in Category C.

The penalty for retirement of plants is set at 20 paisa per unit.

Implementation was delayed

Researchers at CSE made an assessment of the new notification. The estimate revealed that based on a new categorization, only about 28 percent of the total capacity in category A and must meet the standards by 2022.

An additional 28 percent are categorized in category B, which must meet the standards by 2023. A significant capacity of 44 percent – 89.5 gigawatts with 82 plants in category C, which has received an extended deadline until 2024/2025.

The new extension means that about 72 percent of the coal base capacity will now continue to be polluted for another two to three years given the extension, said Nivit Kumar Yadav, director, CSE industry department.

Power plants polluting Delhi air defense have been given a chance to pollute

No explanation was given about the rationale behind choosing the 10 km radius as the effective zone. According to experts, pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants can travel up to 250-300 km.

The Delhi air defense has required tough action to combat toxic air pollution. That is why the December 2017 notices issued by the Central Board of Pollution, which extended the deadlines for most plants by five years, had one notable exception: Power plants in 300 km around Delhi-NCR.

These power plants were aimed at ensuring compliance early by December 2019 instead of a deadline for 2022. A radius of 300 km was decided then, based on the 2016 report by Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, on Delhi air pollution which stated that power plants contributes significantly to the air pollution of the capital.

The radius, as identified by the CPCB, had 11 coal-fired power plants, five of which were located in Haryana, four in Punjab and two in Uttar Pradesh.

However, according to the modified notice, six of 11 plants (Guru Hargobind TPS, Rajiv Gandhi TPS, Talwandi Sabo TPS, Rajpura TPS, Ropar TPS, Yamunanagar TPS) will now fall into category C and will receive an extended deadline of 2024/2025. Five other plants are likely to be included in category A and will receive a 2022 deadline.

A weak penal regime was introduced

The 2021 amendment introduced for the first time a punitive mechanism for non-compliance. In terms of cost per megawatt, a maximum penalty for any plant in category A is shown at 11 rupees lakh / MW.

For Category C plants, which are given extended deadlines, the penalty would be Rs 26 crore at 60 plant load factor per plant of 500 MW. At a cost of MW, it would be only Rs 5 lakh / MW.

Because the penalty is generational, the fine for a smaller capacity non-performing plant operating with a smaller load (generally old plants) is also considerably reduced. For example, a 250 MW plant in Category C operating with a 40 percent load factor has to pay only 8 crore from the second year onwards.

Such a poor framing of formulas to decide the compensation will overcome the whole goal of deterrence, Yadav said.

Compensation designed to favor pollutants

There is no explanation as to why category B and C plants, which are given much later deadlines, are required to pay less damage even after they are allowed to pollute until 2023-2024 and have up to three years to meet the standards.

Instead of investing in more expensive technologies such as flue gas desulphurisation, which costs 45 lakh / MW, then it would be much easier for plants, especially in Category C, to pay a penalty as low as Rs 5 lakh / MW.

These plants will continue to pollute the environment simply by paying such low penalties because it is a small fraction of the fixed cost they receive each year, Yadav said.

Old plants are allowed to kill

A new category for retired plants has been created in the current amendment without specifying which are these plants. It greatly favors old, inefficient polluting plants that are planned to be removed.

Older units that plan to retire by 2025 have been exempted from meeting the standards simply by submitting a business to CPCB and Central Electricity Agency for exemption due to retirement.

This completely contradicts the previous government’s stance on old polluting plants. In Budget 2020, the Union’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, categorically mentioned that services that operate old thermal power plants will be asked to close them if such power plants emit more than the predefined standards, Yadav said.

Forget closing these plants, they are now exempt from even following and meeting these standards until 2025 and can continue to operate further by paying compensation.

Old and polluted plants that should be retired are allowed to operate indefinitely by paying a nominal penalty. This relaxation by MoEF & CC encourages them to continue their operations, thus risking the health of the people. This is clearly an extension of their position contradicting the government’s policy of managing old pollution plants, Yadav said.

Why implementation of 2015 emission standards has been critical

The emission standards for power plants were announced after much delay in 2015. Implementation of these standards was critical to clean air, as thermal energy sector contributes a lot to the pollution in the country and implementation of these emission standards dropped this burden. at 40-50 percent.

This was important to curb local pollution in cities and more importantly, in the regions where these plants are located.

The deadline was further extended by another two or three years. However, extension is not a concern; What makes this a fatally flawed report is that discouragement in the face of disrespect gives polluters permission to pollute, Narain said.