India has been severely lagging in ensuring that at least 5% of coal used in thermal plants was mixed with biomass despite guidelines mandating them to do so. This recalcitrance by power manufacturers has prompted the Power Ministry to consider cutting coal supply to non-compliant plants, it emerged from the proceedings of an inter-ministerial meeting of the Environment, Agriculture and Power Ministries on Monday.
The Power Ministry in October 2021 had decreed that all thermal power plants ensure 5% compliance by October 2022. Biomass pellets have the same calorific value as coal and mixing them with coal saves consumption as well as reportedly cuts emissions.
The meeting to review progress of biomass co-firing in thermal power plants was held in New Delhi to prepare for the coming post-monsoon season that saw farm fires in north India and worsening air pollution. Biomass from stubble, which is often burned by farmers in open fields, can be used in coal plants to reduce pollution.
“It was also emphasised that the Power Ministry would consider reduction in coal supply for those thermal power plants that do not comply with the policy on biomass co-firing. Sufficient emphasis was given on the fact that the health and safety of the citizens was topmost priority and no one has the right to put innocent lives in danger,” said a government statement on the proceedings of the meeting.
The meeting was co-chaired by Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav and Power Minister R.K. Singh. It included senior officials from all Ministries and departments in charge of coordinating drives against air pollution.
In 2020-21, only eight power plants had co-fired biomass pellets, and this number had risen to 39 as of Monday. To put that number in perspective, India has around 180 thermal power plants. In the Delhi-NCR region, a hotbed of air pollution, 10 thermal power plants had started co-firing with biomass and coal. As of Monday, 83,066 tonnes of biomass have been co-fired in 39 thermal power plants across the country and has generated close to 55,390 MW of power.