Pollution regulator threatens to shut 14 thermal plants over emission norms

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Taking a strict view of thermal power stations’ failure to meet emission standards, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has issued warnings to 14 plants across six states of the country.

In a notice dated January 31, a day before Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hinted in her Budget 2020 speech that coal-fired power stations failing to meet standards might be shut down, the pollution watchdog has asked the operators of these 14 thermal stations to respond within 15 days why they should not be closed down.

In her Budget speech on February 1, Sitharaman had said in Parliament: “For the thermal power plants which are old and whose carbon emission levels are high, we propose that utilities running them should be advised to close them... The land so vacated could be put to an alternative use.”

“In large cities with population above one million, clean air is a matter of concern. The government proposes to encourage such states that are formulating and implementing plans to ensure cleaner air in cities above one million,” Sitharaman added.

The notices were issued to plants located in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act. The CPCB warned the power plants of immediate closure and imposition of an environmental compensation if they failed to respond.

Of the 14 stations, nine are located within a 300-km radius of Delhi. Their emissions worsen the city’s already-poor air quality. These plants have failed to meet the regulation standards with regard to the emission of Particulate Matter (PM), Sulphur Dioxide (So2) and Nitric Oxide (NOx).

Coal-based power plants have been one of the biggest contributors to air pollution, with power generation accounting for over 80 per cent of the industrial SO2 emissions in India. The CPCB measure is particularly significant against the backdrop of the government’s thrust on reducing dependence on non-renewable resources and switching to renewable energy.

The measures to regulate SO2 and NOx were first introduced by the Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2015, and all coal-fired power stations were expected to retrofit and reduce pollution emissions within two years. The plants were asked to install Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD) to remove SO2 from exhaust flue-gas by the end of 2017. The deadline, later extended by another two years, ended in December 2019.

In the national capital region (NCR) alone, 33 power units were to be upgraded through installation of the FGD. Of those, only two units, at Mahatma Gandhi Super Thermal Power Project, Jhajjar Power Station, CLP India Pvt Ltd, completed the installation. The other 31 units in the NCR, with a combined capacity of 9,470 Mw, are yet to complete the process.

Reacting to the development, Avinash Chanchal, a senior climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace India, said: "If the government is serious about public health, it must take strict action against thermal power plants, which have already missed the new emission standards. The government needs to penalise non-compliant power generators by imposing heavy fines, as well as shutting them down, to set a precedent."

The plants that have received notices from CPCB Chairman SPS Parihar are Indira Gandhi TPS (Jhajjar), Deen Bandhu Chhotu Ram TPS (Yamunanagar), Panipat TPS, Rajiv Gandhi Thermal Power project (Hissar), North Chennai TPS (Tamil Nadu), Rajpura TPS (Patiala), Talwandi Sabo Power Plant (Mansa), Guru Hargobind Singh TPS (Bathinda), NTPC TPS in Dadri, Harduaganj TPS (Aligarh); Kothagudem TPS, Khammam and Singareni TPS in Telangana, and Damodaran Sajeevaiah TPP and Vizag Hinduja TPP in Andhra Pradesh.

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