As Delhi chokes, power plants are set to miss emissions deadline


By Rajesh Kumar Singh

Ten coal-fired power plants near New Delhi are poised to miss a December deadline to install pollution control devices that would have curbed premature deaths linked to toxic emissions.

Eight of the plants, whose operators include Vedanta Ltd., Larsen & Toubro Ltd. and Uttar Pradesh Power Corp., have yet to order the required flue-gas desulfurization units, according to the Central Electricity Authority. The units can take as long as three years to secure and install, and it’s unclear if the operators will be penalized by authorities if they miss the deadline.

Air pollution levels in India’s capital reached near record levels this month, forcing schools to shut and keeping residents indoors. If the emissions standards were implemented nationwide, India could avoid more than 3,00,000 premature deaths through 2030, according to a study by the Bengaluru-based Center for Study of Science, Technology & Policy.

“Non-compliance will come at the cost of human health,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at Greenpeace India.

Indian power producers are under financial stress and having difficulty securing financing for the units that can cost as much as Rs one crore per megawatt, according to M.S. Unnikrishnan, the chief executive officer at Thermax Ltd., which installs the devices. Officials from Vedanta, Larsen & Toubro, Uttar Pradesh Power and the other generators poised to miss the deadlines, didn’t respond to queries seeking comment.

The “monetized health benefits” outweigh the costs of installing the pollution control devices within the first few years, according to the CSTEP report. India’s power and environment ministries didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The air quality index, or AQI, was at 599 at some areas in New Delhi at 11:52 a.m. on Monday after breaching 1,000 earlier this month, according to website AirVisual, which monitors air pollution around the world. Readings above 300 are considered hazardous and anything below 50 is the safe level.

Coal-fired plants are one of the major sources of air pollution in the country, along with other factors such as emissions from vehicles, construction dust and burning of farm stubble. Flue-gas desulfurization units can reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

India’s environment ministry first issued guidelines to thermal power plants in December 2015 to reduce emissions. But after the industry raised concerns over cost of the equipment and other issues, the deadline was extended by as long as five years until Dec. 2022.


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