The move, which will benefit power projects of more than 100 MW, comes in the wake of the recent nationwide power outages for which the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) was also blamed, given its failure to give timely green clearances for projects. Although the immediate reason for the recent collapse of power grids could be reckless overdrawal of power by states, what lies beneath the flouting of grid code is a widening demand-supply gap for power.
In a bid to speed up the clearance process, the MoEF recently agreed that thermal power projects, with firm coal-linkage indicating the quality of coal and basket of mines of Coal India/Singareni Collieries Company, will be considered for early environmental clearance.
It is essential to have detailed information regarding quality of coal to assess the environmental impacts of a thermal power project. The various important parameters of coal quality include calorific value, sulphur content and ash content, said a ministry notification. In fact, the ministries of power and environment, at a recent meeting with the Prime Ministers Office (PMO), had concurred that to speed up processing of environmental clearance, MoEF should process applications if the quality of coal is specified.
At present, decisions on projects are taken within 105 days of the receipt of complete information, as provided for in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) notification, 2006. Of these, 60 days are for appraisal by the ministry's expert appraisal committee (EAC) and 45 days for processing and communicating the decision.
The calorific value of coal would determine the quantity of coal requirement per unit of power generation, ash content would determine the land requirement for the ash pond as also the water consumption for its disposal in slurry mode and sulphur content would impact on the sulphur dioxide emissions, which, in turn, would affect the air quality.
Accordingly, the quality of coal to be used in the project is taken into consideration while preparing the EIA report and carrying out the environmental appraisal, it added.
Under the new norms, thermal power plants located beyond 500 km from the mine should use only treated coal that has gross calorific value below 4000 Kcal/kg. The same applies for captive thermal power plant of more than 100 MW capacity and located beyond 500 km from pit head, along with any captive power plant above 100 MW or independent power plant located in an urban area or an ecologically sensitive area.