In a move welcomed by environmentalists, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has issued a draft notification that sets new emission and water consumption for coal-based thermal power sector. The ministry has invited suggestions on the notification in a thirty day period. The new notification has set new norms for emission of particulate matter (PM), Sulphir Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen dioxide (NOx) and mercury. As of now, there are no standards for these emission for the thermal power sector. Each year, thousands of people die of respiratory ailments triggered by toxic air and thermal plants, along with vehicular pollution, contributes majorly to worsening the air quality.
As per the new standards, thermal power plants are expected to cut particulate emissions from new plants by 25 per cent, SO2 emissions by 90 per cent, NOx emissions by 70 per cent and mercury emissions by 75 per cent compared with the existing state-of-the-art plants. Those plants that were established after 2003 will need to meet slightly lower standards, while plants older than 2003 will be required to meet more relaxed norms.
As far as water consumption is concerned, the new norms will require all existing cooling tower-based plants to restrict water consumption to 3.5 cubic metre per watt hour (m3/MWh). Plants which will be set up after January 2017 have to achieve 2.5 m3/MWh. Also, all existing once-through-cooling (OTC) system plants will need to be replaced with cooling tower-based systems that consume no more than 4 m3/MWh. According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), this can have a remarkable reduction in freshwater withdrawal by thermal power plants – cumulatively, freshwater withdrawal will decrease from around 22 billion cubic metre in 2011-12 to around 4.5 billion cubic metre in 2016-17, an 80 per cent dip.
A CSE note said on Tuesday, that compared with the industry-average the emissions cut will be significant. “The particulate emission norm for an average Indian power plant is 150 milligram per normal cubic metre (mg/Nm3). Under the proposed standards, a plant installed in 2017 will have to meet a particulate standard of 30 mg/Nm3– a reduction of 80 per cent.
The note went on to add, “The impact of pollution from coal-based power generation is known to be disproportionately high. This fact was highlighted by finance minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech in support of an additional cess of Rs 100 per tonne on coal that will be used to invest in clean generation.” The new norms will come into full effect 2017 onwards.