The Union Environment Ministry has for the third time extended the deadline by which coal plants must install pollution control technologies to stem emissions, drawing criticism from environment and clean-energy activists.
The Ministry first specified emission norms for the control of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and mercury (Hg) from coal-fired power plants in December 2015, giving thermal power plant operators time until December 2017 to install equipment that would contain emission of these pollutants. The deadline was then extended to 2022. Plant operators say that the high cost of retrofitting plants have delayed implementation of the norms.
Power plants in Delhi-NCR, which witnesses some of the worst pollution levels, were given a stricter deadline of 2020 to meet the pollution standards. However, non-compliance and limited progress by the Delhi-NCR power plants as well as other power plants across the country led to a new extension in March 2021, followed by the notification on Monday pushing it to 2025.
According to the latest notification, power plants within a 10-km radius of Delhi-NCR and in the vicinity of cities with a population of more than one million, have until December 31, 2024, to comply — an extra two years from the earlier deadline of December 2022. For power plants within a 10-km radius of ‘critically polluted’ areas (as designated by the Environment Ministry) the deadline has been extended to December 31, 2025, from the earlier December 31, 2023. Finally, for all other power plants across the country which had an earlier timeline of December 31, 2024, the new deadline stands at December 31, 2026.
Apart from this, all power plants scheduled to retire before December 31, 2027, will now be exempted from installing flue gas desulphurisation (FGD), or equipment that stems sulphur dioxide emissions, and instead they will just have to submit an exemption request to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) citing the grounds for retirement.
While multiple timeline extensions have been given for the installation of FGD to control SO2 emissions from coal based-power stations, there are sustained efforts toward diluting or doing away with the norms by the power plants, say environmentalists.
“This is evident from the communications in the past and studies put out by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and the Union Ministry of Power (MoP), which ignore the basic science and chemistry of SO2’s role in building up PM2.5 concentrations through sulphate formation,” said Sunil Dahiya, analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
Ritwick Dutta, environmental lawyer and founder of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), said, “The fact that another extension has been given clearly shows that the emission norms will never be implemented. All power plants were required to achieve the target for emission standards by December 2017. All missed the target. On one pretext or the other. Now, it has been further extended.”
“It is ironical that this new notification was issued only two days before the United Nations International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. Instead of pioneering the movement in spirit, this action could be putting the ‘blue sky’ at stake,” said Nivit Yadav of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). “Our analysis shows that till date, only 4% of India’s coal power capacity has installed equipment to control SO2 emissions and another 41% has identified the vendors for supply of the equipment. The remaining 55% of the capacity has not taken any concrete steps to meet the norms even after seven years since the norms were first notified in December 2015.”