The Central Pollution Control Board has been directing the authorities to install FGD which reduces emission of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from the thermal units.
While the Supreme Court and Union environment ministry are giving ultimatum to coal-fired power plants for complying with national emission standards, experts have raised questions on the imperativeness of installing flue gas desulphurization (FGD) technology in power plants. In communications with various thermal power plants across the country, the Central Pollution Control Board has been directing the authorities to install FGD which reduces emission of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from the thermal units.
However, in a counter statement, experts stressed on not “following the technology trend of the developed world”. While speaking during the panel discussion on ‘Balancing energy security, environmental impacts and economic considerations: Indian Perspective’, R Srikanth, head of energy and environment research programme at Bengaluru-based National Institute of Advanced Studies, stated that the already-distressed power lobby is “being driven by the FGD lobby”.
Explaining the technology’s dispensability, Srikanth said, “Unlike majority of American coal, India is fortunate to have low-sulphur coals. Studies show that the sulphur content in Indian coal is hardly 0.7%, which is not uniformly distributed in the coal but concentrated in the pyritic bands which are visible to the naked eye. The best solution to get rid of sulphur from Indian coal is to wash it.”
Further citing the old government policies, Srikanth said that notifications regarding usage of washed coal for generating power were issued way back in 1990s and last in 2014. “Till date, the government has not made any significant drive to implement these notifications. Nearly 500 million tonnes of domestic coal is used in the country for power generation but how much of it is washed,” questioned Srikanth. He further pointed out that people residing in the periphery of coal-fired plants complain of dust (particulate matter) and not SO2 emissions. “Electrostatic precipitators (ESP) are a very simple way out to control these emissions. Though we have this technology, the government is now directing plants to implement ESP along with FGD which is leading to further complications. Being foreign technology, the cycle time of FGDs is three years as most of its components are coming from abroad. India has the world’s largest market for FGDs and technology suppliers in China, Germany, United States and other countries are minting money at our cost,” said Srikanth.
Highlighting more on the financial distress, he stated that the total cost of implementing the technology is around Rs1 lakh crores. “This will only increase the tariff for consumers. Moreover, what many people are unaware about is that installing this technology will increase auxiliary consumption of the plant by 2%. This means that the plant will require 2% more coal to generate the same amount of power, which will further lead to 2% increase in toxic emissions,” he said.