According to a recent report published on March 16, several coal-based power plants in Delhi-NCR have made very little progress in following instructions to use biomass or agricultural leftovers for electricity generation. According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), which carried out the study, a recent announcement (February 2023) by the Environment Ministry has allowed these plants additional latitude to postpone complying with the directives.
The Union Ministry of Electricity had ordered the facilities to use biomass or agricultural waste to replace five to ten percent of the coal they use to generate energy by October 2021.
This was done to solve the dual problems of pollution and stubble burning. By September 2022, these plants had to achieve 5% co-firing, and the next year they had to increase it to 7%.
But, according to the green think group, the plants in Delhi-NCR have rarely made any progress.
In addition to following the ministry’s guideline, the 11 coal-fired power plants in Delhi-NCR were also handed a supplementary directive by the Commission on Air Quality Management (CAQM) in September 2021 to co-fire biomass.
According to the CAQM Act of 2021, any violation of the CAQM directive is a crime that is “punishable with imprisonment” for a time that may last up to five years or with a fine of up to Rs 10 million or both.
Nivit Kumar Yadav, Programme Director, Industrial Pollution, CSE, said, “Our study shows that cumulatively, less than one per cent of the coal consumed per year in these 11 plants had been replaced with agro-residues until December 2022.”
The key reasons for this include a huge demand-supply gap.
According to the CSE-surveyed power facilities, they do not have a consistent long-term supply of pellets. The biomass pellet producing facility has been requested by the Indira Gandhi thermal power plant in Jhajjar, Haryana, but has not yet been built.
Although there are few pellet producers in the nation, there is a mismatch between supply and demand, according to Yadav.
The demand in Delhi-NCR exceeds the combined daily capacity of pellet producers by about 2,500 tonnes.
The producers discover that selling biomass or agricultural waste to companies is more profitable and less time-consuming. They contend that the process is being unreasonably delayed and that the tenders issued by the power plants are not being awarded on purpose.
According to government records, power plants in Delhi-NCR have launched long-term tenders for almost 12 million tonnes of biomass pellets; however, the study noted that 73% of these tenders have not yet been awarded.
The Rajiv Gandhi TPP, Yamuna Nagar TPP, and Panipat TPP, three power plants owned by the Haryana government, have issued both short- and long-term tenders, but none of these orders have been filled.
The only coal-based power plants in Delhi-NCR that have successfully placed long-term orders till December 2022 are the Mahatma Gandhi TPP, Dadri TPP, and Indira Gandhi TPP, according to the statement.
The study also showed that in five of the 11 plants, including Panipat TPP, Mahatma Gandhi TPP, Nabha TPP, Ropar TPP, and Guru Hargobind TPP, the biomass pellet tenders issued are of a much smaller quantity than required to replace 5% of the coal-based fuel for the “actual” generation of electricity in the financial year 2021-2022, it said.
The CSE also discovered that some of the power plants—including Panipat and Rajiv Gandhi TPPs—had attempted to obtain a waiver from adhering to the regulation on co-firing biomass by making an appeal to the Electricity Regulatory Commission (ERC) of Haryana. However, the request was turned down by the commission.
According to Mr. Yadav, there is a clear reluctance on the part of the power plants in Delhi-NCR to adhere to the policy on biomass co-firing. These plants rarely seldom co-fire biomass. Most of the plants are concerned about the problems with the supply chain and haven’t taken any decisive action to reassure the pellet manufacturers or allay their worries.
The Union Environment Ministry issued a new notification on biomass co-firing on February 16 following the expiration of the deadline in September 2022 and over a year and a half since the order was issued by the Ministry of Electricity and the CAQM.
The amended notification reduced the amount of co-firing to 5% and extended the compliance deadlines by two more years.
Mr Yadav said, “As had happened with the emission norms, the new notification has diluted the norms and pushed the deadlines for biomass co-firing, absolving the coal-based power plants from the taking the onus of slow uptake of the policy implementation.”
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