Not a single coal-based thermal power plant in West Bengal has installed flue gas desulphurisation (FDG), a technology to eliminate sulphur compounds from exhaust emissions, a study has found.
Plants that contribute to 40% of coal-based power generation capacity in the State have not yet been awarded the contracts for FDG units whereas the remaining power production facilities were not able to complete the installation of the technology within the allotted time frame, said an analysis by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), an independent research organisation.
The total coal-based electricity generation capacity of plants in the State is 13,686 megawatts (MW). None of the major plants connected to the power grid has installed FGD units or direct sorbent injection (DSI) technology to control sulphur dioxide emissions.
Units with 7,480 MW power generation capacity in West Bengal have been awarded contracts for FGD installation. Units with a capacity of 510 MW have been identified as ones that will be “retired” over the next few years and are exempted from the FGD requirement. This shows that units contributing 5,695 MW (40% of total capacity) are yet to take any serious steps to regulate sulphur dioxide emissions despite the notification in December 2015, the study points out.
The coal consumption for grid-connected power generation in West Bengal has increased from 44 metric tonnes (MT) in 2015 to 54 MT in 2021 and the population of West Bengal faces severe health risks due to the State’s reliance on dirty coal energy, the study said. Both State-run power plants and private-sector power generation units have shied away from installing retrofits to control sulphur dioxide emissions.
While none of the private power plants has even awarded the contracts for installing FDG technology after seven years of emission norms being in force, a lack of commitment by the State government agencies to reducing pollution emissions is evident in the fact that plants contributing 3,070 MW of the 3,970 MW capacity under the State sector have not given the contracts for FGD installation.
The country’s first emission norms for control of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury from coal-fired power plants were notified in December 2015 and since then the deadline for installation of pollution control equipment has been extended three times by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
“While there is lack of seriousness on controlling pollution at source from electricity generation stations in West Bengal by all— State, Centre and private entities, the coal consumption is increasing for grid-connected power generation units, indicating increasing emission load and contribution to air pollution from the power sector,” Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at CREA and author of the report, said.
A press statement issued by CREA explains that when coal and other fossil fuels with an inherent sulphur component are burned, a reactive gas called sulphur dioxide is released.
“A significant portion of the overall Particulate Matter (PM) concentration in ambient air is made up of secondary particles, which are created when sulphur dioxide combines with other contaminants. Well-known dangerous particulate matter PM2.5 causes millions of fatalities each year both globally and in India. Controlling sulphur dioxide emissions from coal-based power plants at the source will significantly reduce the overall amount of air pollution in the State and beyond,” the statement said.
The CERA report finds that sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants can be reduced by up to 86% at some units, which highlights the urgency of installing emission control devices at these power generation stations.
Data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) shows that till February 2021, of the 600 units contributing the total thermal power of 211. 6 GW (gigawatts) in the country; only 20 units contributing 8.2 GW have installed FDGs.