65 per cent of coal-fired plants in India may not meet environmental norms by 2022: CSE

New and updated assessment by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) finds that a very large number of coal-fired power plants in India continue to be completely lax and laid back when it comes to getting ready to meet the  2022 deadline for meeting environmental norms.

“In fact, at the rate that they are going,” says Nivit Kumar Yadav, senior programme manager of CSE’s industrial pollution team, “65 per cent of them may not be able to comply even by this extended deadline.”

Way back in December 2015, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) had notified emission norms for four pollutants in the coal-based thermal power sector — particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), mercury,as well as for specific water consumption.

The deadline for meeting the norms was set for 2019, which was later extended till 2022 under pressure from the industry.

The norms categorise power plants into three groups – units installed before 2004, between 2004 and 2016, and to be commissioned after 2016.Different emission and water discharge standards have been specified for each category.

Units commissioned after January 1, 2017 have to meet the most stringent standards. Older and smaller units have to comply with relatively lenient norms compared to newer and bigger units – the rationale was theage of the plant and the need to retire these facilities, which meant that investment in improvement could be avoided.

What are these norms?

  • Power stations installed before 2004 have to meet lenient PM and NOx norms: 100 mg/Nm3 and 600 mg/Nm3,respectively. Mercury standards donot apply to this category.
  • Plants commissioned between January 1, 2004 and 2016 have to meet slightly tighter norms of 50 mg/Nm3 for PM, 450 mg/Nm3for NOx, and 0.03mg/Nm3for mercury.
  • Both the categories have to meet a specific water consumption norm of 3.5m3/MWh.
  • Sulphur dioxide norms for both the categories are based on the unit size. Units of a size larger than 500 MW will need to meet 200 mg/Nm3and those smaller, 600 mg/Nm3
  • New power stations (commissioned post-January 1, 2017) have to meet PM norms of 30 mg/Nm3, SO2 and NOxnorms of 100 mg/Nm3, mercury norm of 0.03 mg/Nm3and specific water consumption norm of 3m3/MWh.

In May this year, releasing CSE’s earlier assessment of the coal-based thermal power industry, the Centre’s director generalSunitaNarain had said: “Coal-fired power plants are some of the most polluting industries in the country. They account for over 60 per cent of the total PM emissions from all industry, as well as 45 per cent of the SO2, 30 per cent of NOx and over 80 per cent of the mercury emissions. Therefore, even as we continue using coal, India’s thermal power sector must clean up its act. This is absolutely non-negotiable.” 

The sector does not seem to have taken heed. The latest CSE assessment, which has noted the progress till August 2020, says:

  • Only 56 per cent of the total capacity complies with the new PM norms; a mere 35 per cent are in compliance with the SOnorms.
  • This is just a 3 per cent increase in compliance for PM norms and 5 per cent for SOnorms when compared to October last year.

Says SoundaramRamanathan, deputy programme manager, industrial pollution unit, CSE: “Centre-owned plants appear to be leading in the implementation of SO2 norms, followed by privately-owned ones. State-owned units have made no progress.”

CSE in a statement said that one of the obstacles that any assessment of the sector may face– is a lack of data. For instance, the new assessment has not managed to find out the state of compliance with the norms for mercury and specific water consumption, or a complete scenario of the level of compliance for PM and NOx, because there is no information about them in the public domain.

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