Manka Behl, Times News Network Apr 22 2017
NAGPUR: The sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels of the three new units at the Koradi Thermal Power Station (KTPS) recorded at the stack (chimney) are over five times the permissible limit set by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC). The new data has been provided to TOI by the plant authorities themselves.
Even though the plant was functioning in violation of environmental norms, units 8, 9 and 10 of KTPS were dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 14. While Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) figures were shockingly low, the chief engineer (environment) of Mahagenco, which operates the plant, had told TOI that it was over the permissible 200 milligrams per normal metre cube (mg/NM3).
Following TOI’s report on April 16, ‘Koradi Plant low pollution levels unrealistic. Fudged?’, Mahagenco sent two clarifiations. Along with the first one, it did not provide air quality monitoring data for stack emissions which, as per MoEFCC rules, it was to display on the company and MPCB’s website. This was to be done on real-time basis.
In its clarification, KTPS chief engineer says, “A proposal is ready and it will done in a few months.” Neither MoEFCC nor MPCB has taken action against KTPS for not complying with this norm.
After nearly a week, the KTPS, which claims to have taken “several environment-friendly measures” on its own, provided the required data. The difference in data provided by the MPCB, based which the report had appeared on April 16, and KTPS was stark.
While MPCB’s SO2 level for unit 9 for the month of January was in single digits, KTPS average value for the same month was in four figures. Eg. MPCB: 5.71mg/NM3; KTPS: 1283 mg/NM3.
In the first clarification, strangely, KTPS agreed with the MPCB’s figures SO2 emissions. “Data monitored and analysed by MPCB is correct as the quality of emission fluctuates depending upon the quality and load of coal at that time,” it said.
MPCB regional officer Nagesh Lohalkar said that such variations were possible. “We take the sample for 28 minutes. It is the SO2 level at that given moment whereas KTPS’s data is the average of continuous monitoring,” he told TOI. Strangely, the methodology of sample collection and analysis of both MPCB and Mahagenco was the same, according to Lohalkar.
Kaustav Chatterjee, founder of environmental NGO Green Vigil Foundation which works in city, said that such vast variations were impossible. “Irrespective of time, if the plant is functional and gases are being emitted from the stack, MPCB’s values are unbelievably low. The low values would have been possible only if the coal was sulphur free. But, KTPS data shows high level of sulphur,” he added.
Why are high SO2 levels dangerous? According to IMD research, high levels of SO2 cause acid rain in the vicinity of power plants. Also, it can cause cancer and other ailments. To this, KTPS says, “There is no data from the primary health centre.” TOI’s report was based on reactions from those living in the places where the MPCB was monitoring ambient air quality.
In spite of the high SO2 levels, Mahagenco and state government has been reluctant to install a flue gas desulphuriser (FGD) on the grounds that it costs Rs400 crore per unit. An FGD, which has to be imported as it is not manufactured in India, controls the emission of SO2 into the air.
According to KTPS, the FGD is required only for coastal thermal plants. But, the MoEFCC norms makes no such distinction.
As reported by TOI on February 8, 2016, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in July 2015 wrote to then Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar to waive off the requirement of FGD for KTPS. Javadekar did not entertain this request.
While agreeing that “the consumer will have to pay for the power rate hike” when an FGD is installed, KTPS now says it had never refused to do it. “Tender for its installation is in the final stage and will be processed within a month,” said KTPS.
Simultaneously, the KTPS is also exploring cost-effective alternate FGDs. “They will be indigenously manufactured,” said its official.
Officials informed that an expression of interest (EoI) has been floated and prospective bidders from many countries are already visiting KTPS. As per MoEFCC norms, it has to be installed by December 2017.
According to KTPS, no power plant in the country has installed FGDs. However, there are several media reports on the contrary.
There is a question mark over MPCB’s and KTPS’s particulate matter (PM) data too, which it claims are within permissible limits for stack and mostly for ambient air quality monitoring. Environmentalists had earlier pointed out that the emissions could not be so high if PM levels were under control. Though many people residing near the plant have been constantly complaining about air pollution, Mahagenco officials said that it could be due to other factors like vehicular traffic on the highway.
The monitoring equipment installed at KTPS was supplied by Forbes Marshall, a private company which is a leader in providing control instrumentation solutions (according to its website). The equipment is being calibrated by the company itself. Environmentalists feel that a neutral agency should be doing the job of calibration and equipment testing.
“To get the real picture, a technical team from Central Pollution Control Board should investigate,” Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust, said. Goenka’s research on power plants in India four years ago has thrown up distressing facts.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minster’s Office (PMO) has sought action on the various irregularities at KTPS and asked MPCB member secretary to submit action taken report in a fortnight. The PMO was acting on a complaint filed by city activist Ankita Shah, which was based on TOI’s report on April 16.