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The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has once again extended the deadline for coal-based power plants to install pollution control technology and meet emission standards.
The deadline for thermal power plants to install Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) units that cut sulfur dioxide emissions has already been moved many times.
As per the new notification, the deadline for retiring power plants to install the equipment has been extended to December 31, 2027. For non-retiring units, the deadline has been extended to December 31, 2026, from December 31, 2024.
For non-retiring units within a 10-km radius of the National Capital Region or cities with a million-plus population, the deadline has been extended to December 31, 2024, from December 31, 2022.
The deadline for non-retiring units within a 10-km radius of critically polluted areas has been extended by two years from December 31, 2023.
The deadline for coal-based power plants across the country has been extended to December 31, 2026, from December 31, 2024.
Status of FGD installations
The government plans to install 600 FGD units at thermal power plants with a combined 211.62 GW capacity. This includes 67.46 GW of power plants owned by the central government, 68.16 GW by the states, and 76.01 GW by private players. Of these, bids have been awarded for FGD installations in 85.74 GW of thermal power plants.
Across the country, the central government has awarded bids to install FGD units at 133 projects with a capacity of 58.42 GW. State governments and private companies have awarded bids for 23 projects with 8.26 GW and 33 projects with 19.06 GW, respectively.
Thermal power plants that are to retire by December 31, 2027, will not be required to meet the specified norms for SO2 emissions if they seek exemption from the Central Pollution Control Board and Central Electricity Authority on the ground of retirement.
Initially, a 2017 deadline was set for thermal power plants to comply with emissions standards by installing the FGD infrastructure to cut toxic sulfur dioxide emissions. Subsequently, separate timelines were set for different regions, with the deadline ending in 2022. In another order, on March 31, 2021, thermal plants close to heavily populated areas and New Delhi had to comply by 2022, while plants closer to critically polluted areas had time up to 2025 to comply or retire the units.
Installation of FGDs in a phased manner
According to a recent report published by the Center for Atmospheric Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, for a typical coal-fired thermal power plant, FGD can remove between 50% and 99.8% of SO2 in flue gases depending upon the age of the plant.
The report recommends adopting a graded action plan for phased implementation of FGDs by giving preference to areas with the highest surface concentration of SO2. Phase 1 of FGD implementation should be from July 2022 to July 2025 and include FGD implementation in 40 thermal plants across the country. Phase 2 should happen in 49 thermal power plants, start from July 2026, and be completed by July 2029.
The report points out that Phase 3 of FGD implementation should happen in 27 thermal power plants and be completed between July 2029 and July 2031. Phase 4 of FGD implementation should happen in 21 thermal power plants, and it can start from July 2031 and be completed by July 2033.
Phase 5 can include the remaining seven thermal power plants and be completed by July 2034.
In 2020, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission suggested that thermal power projects retrofitting pollution control systems on commissioned units would be allowed to recover their costs in parts from buyers during the tenure of power purchase agreements. It suggested that 90% of the installation cost can be recovered over the life of the emission control equipment, estimated at 25 years, and10% considered salvage value.