Government-owned power companies are guilty of operating the most polluting coal-based power plants in the country, as a substantial number of such units are old and operate on outdated technologies, a report on environment rating of thermal power plants released on Saturday by Center for Science and Environment (CSE) said.
Spanning over two years, 16 states and 47 power plants, CSE’s ‘Heat in Power’ report said 40% of the plants rated in the exercise received less than 20% score, owing primarily to inefficient use of resources, even as private-sector operated plants fared better owing to their recent vintage and more efficient technology. Although a coal-fueled thermal plant can operate beyond a life-span of 25 years, efficiency dwindles sharply with time, leading to increasingly polluted outcomes.
Half of the plants considered for environment rating are at the end of their lifespan, while 80% are between 15-25 years.
As per the environment ratings, the top performers were West Bengal-based CESC-Budge Budge, followed by JSEWL-Toranagallu (Karnataka), Tata-Trombay (Maharashtra) and JSW-Ratnagiri (Maharashtra). Tata-Mundra (Gujarat) received an award for having the highest energy efficiency, while Gujarat Industries Power Company (GIPCL), Surat, won an award for lowest water use.
“As the capacity utilisation for coal-based power plants is only 65%, the emphasis should be on modernising older plants to make them more efficient and less polluting rather than focusing on building new plants,” Sunita Narayan, director general of CSE, said while releasing the report.
However, the report also points out that the current policy of ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) makes it difficult for operators to replace older plants with new ones despite the willingness of companies to infuse capital in the process.
Additionally, the plants with more efficient super-critical technology were trumped by plants with slightly older sub-critical technology due to the former suffering from low availability and capacity utilisation.
“A more efficient super-critical technology would have performed better in the ratings if they had operated at higher plant load factor,” CSE said, adding that external factors like lack of coal availability, coupled with tepid demand from financially stressed discoms, were leading to more modern plants scoring low on several other parameters, and thus tanking in the overall ranking, despite scoring high on efficiency.
CSE’s ratings are based on three different criteria with varying weightage for each. The plants were rated on resource efficiency, pollution and policy compliance.
Even as CSE acknowledged that the cost of renovating older plants and installing systems to check pollution could translate into higher tariff for the consumers, it said the cost would be minimal compared to the health risk posed by polluting plants, especially to populations settled around such units.
“The upgrade required to check pollution would only escalate the cost of electricity by 10-15%, which should not be difficult to absorb by the system given the accrued benefits,” a CSE spokesperson said.