Experts welcome Maha govt’s announcement to study phase down of thermal plants

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A day after Maharashtra government announced a comprehensive study to help determine phase down of coal-fired power plants in a systematic manner, experts on Tuesday welcomed the decision saying it would not accelerate climate goals but also financially benefit the state.

Director, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), Nandikesh Sivalingam, said: “Maharashtra is taking a bold step by being one of the first states in the country to consider coal phase down. Given the current overcapacity situation in the state with respect to coal power, it would not only be accelerating climate goals and protecting public health from dirty coal power but will also benefit the state financially.”

However, he also had a word of caution. “It would be important to have clear time-bound targets that are rooted in the climate emergency and the public health crisis the state is facing,” he said.

The public health crisis, he referred to, was cases such as Nandgaon, where Maharashtra’s Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray visited on Monday after the villagers drew his attention to the adverse impact due to thermal plant and ash pond located near the Khaparkheda Thermal Power Station (KTPS) near Nagpur.

Of Maharashtra’s current installed capacity of 13,602 MW, coal-fired thermal power accounts for as high as 75 per cent or 10,170 MW, according to Maharashtra State Power Generation Company (MAHAGENCO) statistics.

Earlier, on Monday, Maharashtra government had announced to undertake a comprehensive study to help determine phase down of ageing and polluting coal-fired power plants in a systematic manner. “An audit of all power plants in Maharashtra for pollution control measures will be done. Thermal Power Plants not meeting prescribed standards will face decisive action,” Maharashtra’s Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray had said.

The decision by Maharashtra government is significant given that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, during the Conference of Parties (COP26) at Glasgow last November, declared to Net Zero target by 2070 and considering the growing needs of energy for its people, India had insisted on ‘phasing down’ coal consumption rather than ‘phasing out’ much to the chagrin of the richer, developed countries.

A 2021 report by research group Climate Risk Horizons had suggested savings opportunities of up to Rs 75,000 crore over the next decade through the quick retirement of 4,020 MW of old coal power plants by 2022. That was for all India power plants.

The Centre had constituted a Task Force in March 2021 to categorise thermal plants in three categories: on the basis of their location to comply with the emission norms within the time limit specified and work according to the timelines to install FDGs. Flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) is a set of technologies used to remove sulphur dioxide (SO2) before the chimneys of the TTPs release polluted gases in the atmosphere. The categorisation done late last year has meant that the power plants either agree to upgrade technology by spending humongous monies or retire.

It is an important step as part of India’s energy transition in view of climate goals. And therefore, Maharashtra’s decision has been welcomed by experts.

“It’s encouraging that Maharashtra is examining the issue of a coal phase down. Retrofitting old coal units at Koradi, Khaperkheda, Nasik and Chandrapur to control air and water pollution will cost thousands of crores and increase electricity costs. On the other hand, a planned phase down and replacement with cheaper renewable energy and battery storage will reduce the cost of power, address the pollution and health issues residents are suffering from and create new employment opportunities,” said Ashish Fernandes, Chief Executive Officer, Climate Risk Horizons.

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