Coal-fired power plants in the state will continue to be a major source of pollution, as 55 of 77 units in the state have failed to takes steps to curb toxic emissions from sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and particulate matter (PM), revealed an analysis by Greenpeace, a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
With thermal power plants rated as the biggest source of SO2 emissions in India, only four of the 22 coal-fired power plants in the state – nine units with a capacity of 2,696 megawatts (MW) – have Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) technology and CFBC Boiler. The FGD technology removes sulphur dioxide from flue gas that is released into the atmosphere after fossil fuel combustion.
None of the power plants, as per the analysis, have Selective Non-Catalytic Reduction technology to control NOx emissions. While 24 units are yet to be fitted with Electro Static Precipitators (ESP), which removes fine particles from flowing gas, only three units had plans to upgrade technology.
The data assumes significance because Maharashtra’s coal consumption between 2012 and 2016 increased by approximately 30%, with sulphur dioxide emissions rising by nearly 30% during the same period. Studies have shown that increase in air pollution can lead to premature deaths, respiratory illness and cardiovascular diseases, in addition to economic cost to both citizens and the government.
In December 2015, the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF & CC) issued a notification revising standards for coal-based thermal power plants across India aimed at reducing pollution as a result of SO2, NOx and PM emissions, and water consumption. As per the notification, thermal power plants were given a deadline of December 2017 to install technologies to cut emissions.
Greenpeace campaigner Sunil Dahiya said 55 units with an installed capacity of 20,350 MW that have not introduced FGDs is a “violation of the union environment ministry’s notification”.
These power plants operators seemed to have got a breather from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) via a September 2017 meeting of a special technical coordination committee of the Western Regional Power Committee that laid out a revised time frame to retrofit emission-control technologies. The revised timelines to install FGDs for 55 thermal power plant units has to be implemented by 2022.
However, the MoEF&CC has not yet issued a revised notification based on CEA’s revised deadlines.
“More than 80% of the installed coal fired electricity generation capacity in Maharashtra is therefore illegally emitting toxic gases into the atmosphere,” said Dahiya. “The units and power plants in violation of the December 7, 2015, notification should be penalised with strict actions.”
The extension of deadline by the CEA without a revised notification from the MoEF&CC has been challenged in the National Green Tribunal in Delhi.
“Even the power plants that have installed FDG did it before the environment ministry’s notification. Power plant operators don’t want to install these pollution control technologies since it’s expensive. But exposure to pollutants is endangering the lives of people who live around these power plants,” said Debi Goenka, convener, Conservation Action Trust which in 2013 co-authored a paper ‘’Coal based thermal power plants in India - An assessment of atmospheric emissions, particulate pollution and health impacts’.