A staggering 90 per cent of coal-based thermal power plants in India fare unsatisfactorily on the environmental front, shows a recent analysis. While state-owned power generation companies are among the worst performers, plants owned by private firms have performed better on environmental and energy parameters.
In a report released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Saturday here, the plants rated the best were owned by firms from the private sector. These facilities included CESC’s Budge Budge (West Bengal), JSW Energy’s Torangallu (Karnataka) and three from Maharashtra — Tata Power’s Trombay plant, JSW Energy’s Ratnagiri facility and Reliance Infrastructure’s Dahanu plant. Among the top 10 performers, eight were private companies.
“Even the best coal plants in India are average (in terms of environment performance) when compared to their counterparts worldwide,” said the report, titled ‘Heat on Power - Green Rating of Coal-based Thermal Power Plants’.
The plants that fared the worst were Jharkhand State Electricity Board’s Patratu, Uttar Pradesh Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam’s Obra, Damodar Valley Corporation’s Bokaro B, Tenughat Vidyut Nigam’s Lalpania and Karnataka Power Corporation’s Raichur facilities.
National Thermal Power Corporation, India’s largest power producing company, was among the worst performers, with scores of 16-28 per cent for six of its plants that the CSE rated. The analysis and ratings of the firms were conducted through a green rating project, initiated by the CSE in 1997. For this, it examined 47 thermal power plants from 2010-11 to 2012-13. These plants, accounting for 55 per cent of the total power generation capacity, were rated on the basis of parameters such as resource-efficiency (land, water and energy), pollution (water, solid waste and air) and compliance.
The average score of the thermal power sector stood at 23 per cent, compared to a score of more than 80 per cent for any plant following best practices. About 40 per cent of the power plants monitored by the CSE had very low ratings (less than 20 per cent), as these were found non-compliant and had “poor performance and management practices”.
More than half of these plants were violating air pollution norms and the units were withdrawing “half of India’s domestic water needs” annually (22 billion cubic metres).
The CSE said though most of its environmental indicators were being noted by monitoring agencies, no action was taken against them.
"The pollution control boards were noting the fact that these plants were non-compliant and 80 per cent of the plants were even served show-cause notices. But the power plants are an essential service; no action was taken against them because of the regulatory system," said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director-general, CSE.
The environmental body also said about 15 per cent of the power plants were operating since three decades and, therefore, these were increasingly becoming inefficient. "We need to either replace these or massive modernisation is required. For the coming plants, we need to ensure only those with best standards operate in India," Bhushan said.
Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian has said India is a low energy-consuming country and power is "massively under-priced", which is contributing to problems in the sector. Taking a jibe at the Aam Aadmi Party government here, he said, "We know many politicians, when they come to power, first say 'we promise free power'. This is not a political economy that could help us move forward. We need a discussion on how we price power. I am not saying we should eliminate subsidies completely." He also sought innovating ways to improving enforcement.
Ashok Lavasa, environment secretary, said the power sector shouldn't be entirely from the environmental perspective alone. He suggested self-regulation as a way forward. "To my mind, it is not a proper way of looking at the power sector if you only look at the environment side. The power sector in India has to be seen in its complete perspective. It is a paradox in our country that in a sector in which most input costs are not regulated, retail tariff is regulated and, therefore, there is a situation in which many people are not able to complete the revenue side, which is leading to a lot of pain in the sector. Equally, we need to move quickly from a cost-based regime to a competitive one," he said, adding regulation couldn't be enforced "only by an army of inspectors", but by "self-regulation".
The CSE said India's energy policy should move away from thermal power generation and seek to improve the low power load factor of coal-based plants. It recommended the closure of old or inefficient plants and rationalisation of the process of securing environmental clearances.