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Most power plants in India falter on green regulation: CSE

A staggering 90 per cent of the coal-based thermal power plants in India have unsatisfactory environmental performance, a recent analysis shows. Among the worst-performers were the state-owned power generation companies, while plants owned by private firms have done better on environmental and energy parameters.

In an analysis report released by the Centre For Science and Environment (CSE) on Saturday here, the top-rated companies were all from the private sector such as CESC Limited’s Budge Budge (West Bengal), JSW Energy’s Torangallu (Karnataka) and three from Maharashtra — Tata Power’s Trombay, JSW Energy’s Ratnagiri and Reliance Infrastructure’s Dahanu plant. In fact, among the top 10 performers, eight were private players and the remaining two were state-owned power plants. “Even the best coal plants in India are average (in terms of environment performance) when compared to their counterparts worldwide,” the report titled ‘Heat on Power – green rating of coal-based thermal power plants’ stated.

The worst performers 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 plant.

National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), the largest power producing company in India, was among the worst performers with scores of 16-28 per cent for its 6 plants that the CSE rated.

The analysis and rating of the firms were conducted through a Green Rating Project (GRP) initiated by the CSE in 1997. The CSE 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 various parameters such as resource efficiency (land, water and energy), pollution (water, solid waste and air) and compliance.

The average score of thermal power sector stood at a low 23 per cent (compared to the top score of above 80 per cent by any plant following the best practices). About 40 per cent of the power plants monitored by the CSE had the lowest ratings (of less than 20 per cent) as they were found to be 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 (around 22 billion cubic metre).

“We cannot afford to continue discounting the environmental and health costs of polluting coal-based power plants. This is a clear message from our rating. Last decade of regime has focused too much on environmental clearances and too little on monitoring and enforcement,” said Sunita Narain, director-general at CSE.

The CSE observed that most of these environmental indicators were being noted by the monitoring agencies but 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 notice. 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 at CSE.

The environmental body also noted about 15 per cent of the power plants was operating since three decades, hence, these were becoming more inefficient. “We need to either replace them or massive modernization is required. For the upcoming plants, we need to make sure only the ones with best standards operate in India,” Banerjee said.

Chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian said India is a low energy consuming country and the price of power is “massively underpriced” which contributing to the problems in the sector and took a jibe at the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi for offering power subsidies. “We know that many politicians, when they come to power, say first thing we promise are 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 subsidise completely,” Subramanian said, who also called for innovating ways of improving enforcement.

Ashok Lavasa, environment secretary, said power sector should not be entirely viewed from the environment perspective and suggested self-regulation as the way forward. “It is to my mind, 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 where most of the 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 regime,” Lavasa said.

He, further said, regulation cannot be enforced “only by an army of inspectors” but through “self-regulation.”

The CSE said India’s energy policy should move away from thermal power generation and should look to improve the low power load factor of the coal-based plants. It even recommended closure of old or inefficient plants and rationalised environmental clearance processes.

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