The use of sewage water to meet cooling needs of coal-based power plants will not resolve the conflict over water between thermal projects, farmers and urban communities, a Greenpeace India report said today. In 2016, the government had made mandatory the utilisation of treated wastewater for coal power plants located within 50 km of a sewage treatment facility. “Switching from fresh water to sewage will not reduce the impact of coal power plants on water scarcity in the country,” the report, titled ‘Pipe Dreams’, said. It said that a more timely and cost-effective solution to the coal-water conflict could lie in a phase-out of older, less-efficient power plants, which consume most of the water and cause air pollution. The report said that another solution is the timely adoption of the water consumption target set for power plants by the environment ministry in its notification, dated December 7, 2015. It recommended that all permits for new coal plants must be halted, as they are in any event not required at least till 2027, per the Central Electricity Authority’s draft National Electricity Plan.
After the government made the use of wastewater mandatory, Power Minister Piyush Goyal urged the Mouda plant of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) to use treated sewage from Nagpur in Maharashtra, it said. Additional costs incurred by it were to be passed on to consumers in the electricity tariff. Greenpeace India said that the drought in early 2016 led to severe water shortage for coal power, with several plants shutting down for months amid protests by farming communities over water. The treated sewage policy was meant to tackle this problem, but GIS-based analysis shows that less than eight percent (18 GW) of the country’s coal plants can actually utilise treated sewage water, about 87 percent (200 GW) of the plants have no access to treated sewage water at all, making the efficacy of the policy questionable. The report said that a 1,000 MW coal power plant requires a treatment capacity that can supply 84 million litres of water a day, but sewage treatment facilities are mostly in metros far away from power plants, with almost 40 percent of the capacity in Delhi and Mumbai.
Giving an example, it said Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh together account for 77 GW of coal power but can supply treated sewage water sufficient for just 1.5 GW of coal power. “To claim that the use of sewage would solve coal power’s water problem would be like claiming a drop of water will save a man dying of thirst. “A more effective solution to the water conflict would be to phase out old, inefficient power plants which tend to consume the most water and emit the most pollutants, while also halting permits for new coal power plants. “Speedy adoption of the new water consumption targets will also help alleviate the crisis,” said Jai Krishna, Greenpeace researcher and the author of the report. The report also found that those power plants that are able to use treated sewage could see a 300-600 percent increase in water costs, apart from hundreds of crores in capital investments for treatment facilities.
The resulting costs will be included in the tariff, increasing the burden on distribution companies and consumers, the report said. According to data from Manthan Adhyayan Kendra and Greenpeace India, India lost over 15 billion units of power generation due to raw water shortage at coal power stations between January 2016 and April 2017. Coal power plants require as much as 3.5 litres of water for each unit of power generated and the 230 GW of coal power plants included in this analysis would need about 19 billion litres of water each day for their operations. It is also important to note that treated sewage is important for downstream water flows. Sewage consumed by coal power plants is taken out of the local ecosystem and is not available for any use, the report said.
“With climate change and monsoon variability hitting India hard, we must act swiftly to mitigate the water crisis being caused by coal power. The CEA in its draft national electricity policy has projected that no new coal power plants are needed till 2027 at least. “Solar power is already cheaper than coal. Despite this, the environment ministry is still granting clearances to new coal power plants. This is illogical and a waste of scarce resources,” said Jai Krishna.