As was mentioned in one of my e-mails earlier there has been efforts by
the state govt. to set up coal based thermal power stations in few locations
in the state, one of them being Chamalapura near, Mysore.
do not know whether fellow citizens of Mysore have a correct picture of
the social, economical and environmental impact of a coal power station
in one's own backyard. I enclose an article I had prepared in the background
of Tadadi UMPP, in Uttara Kannada district. Though the proposed plan size
for Mysore is about one fourth of the size of Tadadi UMPP, the impacts
will be similar but reduced in magnitude.
is required is a series of meetings of the interested/ concerned people
to discuss all the relevant issues, and come to an objectively considered
opinion whether to support such a project, which is generally considered
all over the world as highly polluting project. Most importantly, we need
to discuss the feasibility of suitable alternatives available to us to
meet our growing energy requirements.
will also not be out of context to mention here that a massive opposition
to the Tadadi UMPP has resulted in the central govt.'s decision to drop
the idea of such a huge project in Tadadi.
# 1120, 6th Main, K - Block
Ramakrishna Nagara, Mysore - 570022
Phone: 0821 2462502 & 94482 72503
sized coal fired power projects in West Coast
Socio-environmental impacts and viable alternatives
Recently the govt. of India has taken a policy decision to locate two
ultra mega coal based power stations of capacity 4,000 MW each (out of
seven such projects) in coastal Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka and
in coastal Rathnagiri district of Maharastra. The West Coast of India
and the Western Ghats are very rich in bio-diversity, ecologically very
sensitive, and hence are very important to a healthy environment on a
sustainable basis. In view of the serious implications associated with
large size coal fired power stations, especially on such eco-sensitive
areas, there is an urgent need to review the implications of the proposal,
and also to consider the viable alternatives available to us to meet the
electricity demand in the region.
on the natural habitat: The West coast of India in the states of Kerala,
Karnataka, Goa and part of Maharastra has the Western Ghats, with evergreen
and rich forests, running close to it for most of the length. UN has declared
the Western Ghats as one of the 8 most important bio-diversity hot spots
in the world. The narrow strip of coast between the Western Ghats and
the sea has a rich habitat for millions of people living contentedly for
centuries. The proposed large projects like the two ultra mega coal based
power stations of capacity 4,000 MW each in coastal Rathnagiri district
of Maharastra, in coastal Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka; 1,500
MW coal power project at Nandikur near Mangalore; the proposed 1,200 MW
gas fired power station by ONGC etc. will have huge deleterious impact
on the local flora, fauna, people, and general environment of the whole
region. In this regard the following points should be objectively considered
in any proposal to set up coal fired/gas fired power stations in the West
known ability of these forests to attract rainfall to the main land India.
Western Ghats are the source of a large number of rivers like Godavari,
Narmada, Cavery, Krishna, Tunga Bhadra, Sharavathy, Kali etc.
They are the habitat for a large number of rare and endangered species
of flora and fauna.
Reportedly decreasing rainfall in these areas due to a number of projects
affecting the forest cover in recent decades;
Large number of stake holder groups (estimated to be few millions in number)
relying on these habitats with or without any legal land holdings;
The West coast area has a large number of rivers draining into sea; these
deltas are of immense importance to the ecology, food chain and life sustenance
to a large number of people. The proposed location in Karnataka is between
the delta of two important rivers providing such life sustenance.
A large number of industries/projects in recent decades have affected
the flora and fauna: a number of polluting industries near Mangalore and
Karwar; Konkan Railway; Kaiga Atomic Power Station; Sea Bird Naval Base;
a number of hydro electric power stations on the rivers like Sharavathy,
Kali and Varahi etc;
Some additional projects are also reported to be in the pipeline: a large
size petro-chemical complex, including a gas fired power station, near
Mangalore by ONGC (Rs. 50,000 Crore investment); earlier approved coal
fired station at Nandikur by Nagarjuna Power Company Ltd.
Large scale felling of trees under various pretexts is continuing.
Environmental scientists believe that the Western Ghats have had more
than their share of abuse, and cannot take anymore without damaging the
There are a large number of agricultural, fishing and salt making sites
in these areas.
While the West Coast and the Western Ghats have been the source of livelihood
for millions of people for centuries, the proposed projects are likely
to deny such source of income to a large number of families by a combination
of factors like displacement, reducing access to sea, destroying many
species of plants and vegetation, polluting rivers and sea vicinity etc.
The statement by the project authorities and the governments that the
projects will provide employment to the locals will fall short of expectations,
because such mega projects employing advanced technology cannot employ
the locals, who are generally not equipped adequately. If at all few local
people are absorbed in low end jobs, the number is likely to be much less
when compared to those who will loose their livelihood because of the
Suitability of coal fired power stations to the West Coast: Without any
known coal reserves of its own the coastal region on Western India has
to import large quantity of coal, which can devastate the local ecology
and quality of life. An objective assessment of all the direct and indirect
costs of such a proposal may reveal that the real cost of electricity
produced could be many times higher than the projected cost of Rs.1.90
per Unit. Some of the major issues in this regard are:
a high grade imported coal will pose huge problems of dust and ash for
the rich green vegetation of the coast: coconut, banana, rice, fruits
and vegetables etc.
The flue gases like Carbon-di-oxide and Sulphur-di-oxide, fly ash and
heat can have devastating impact on the local flora and fauna.
As per the guidelines of Central Electricity Authority, on an average,
about 3,000 to 4,000 acre of land will be required at each of these sites,
and most of it will have to be carved out of fertile agricultural lands
or thick forest land.
A considerable percentage of the proposed site in Karnataka appear to
be surrounded by low lying wet lands and may need a lot of investment
to make it suitable for a power station site.
Both these sites in Karnataka and Maharastra appear to be within the Coastal
Regulation Zone (CRZ), which is against the restrictions imposed on coastal
Thousands of acres of forest have to be pulled down to provide the right
of way for the required transmission corridor, which has to climb over
the Western Ghats; once these dense virgin forest are opened up there
will be accelerated deforestation due to various reasons.
The estimated area of forest land, which needs to be cut for the purpose
of transmission line for each of the two projects, will be about 200 Metres
wide for a length of few hundred kM in Karnataka alone. This is a huge
forest area to loose. For the quantity of power to be transmitted there
may not be any other alternative other than this much of forest destruction.
Karnataka has already lost a lot of dense/unique forest areas because
of the projects like Sharavathy, Kali, Varahi, Bhadra, Kaiga etc. In the
opinion of the environmental scientists the Western Ghats have already
taken more abuse than they deserve, and cannot take anymore.
The people, who are likely to be displaced, may not have any where else
to go on the narrow strip of coast, and may have to put up with totally
unfamiliar territory after displacement; Sea Bird Naval base and Kaiga
project have already displaced a large number of families.
Unless Sea water is to be used for the project purpose, there will be
a severe stress on the already stressed fresh water resources.
Atmospheric pollution generally associated with coal fired stations will
destroy the clean green image enjoyed by the coast so far.
The acid rains associated with such highly polluting industries will be
much more pronounced in the West coast because of the high levels of humidity
prevailing throughout the year, due to which the thick forests of Western
Ghats and the fertile agricultural lands nearby will be at serious risk.
Tall chimneys (one for each generator) of a height of about 250 meters
will scar the skyline and obstruct the flying paths of many bird species.
In addition the tall transmission pylons (corresponding to the highest
transmission voltage in the country) and the switch yard will destroy
the clean green image of the coast.
The transmission corridors needed for these projects will lead to the
fragmentation of the natural habitat of certain animal species, and is
likely to lead to reduction in number or extinction of those species.
The Karnataka state forest department is reported to be earning revenue
of over Rs. 100 Crores per annum from the forests of Uttara Kannada district
alone. Destruction of such forests would lead to loss of such useful revenue
on a perpetual basis. A large number of medicinal plants would be lost
for ever, whose economic value is difficult to accurately determine.
The proposed project would not be of any direct benefit to the locals,
but only result in huge loss, which cannot be compensated adequately even
with the best intention of comprehensive rehabilitation.
Whereas on one hand, the governments are talking about the urgent need
to increase the forest cover from the present level of 19.1% of the total
geographical area to 33%, the destruction of thick forests through such
ill-conceived projects can only add to the public apprehension that the
governments are not serious about the upkeep of our environment.
Whereas on one hand thick forests and fertile agricultural lands are being
destroyed in the name of various other developmental schemes, the governments
seem to be paying only lip sympathy to increase their coverage.
The proposed project site in Karnataka is very close to many culturally
important locations like the Shiva temple in Gokarna.
The rich fishing sites, and a rare agricultural environment in this region,
where rice can be grown in both salty water and fresh water, are the only
source of lively hood to a large number of people, who will be devastated
by the proposed projects.
The proposed tax holiday for the developers of these ultra mega projects
can only be seen as a tragedy of errors, in addition to the devastation
of the local socio- environmental conditions.
The alternatives for large size power projects of such high societal impact:
The potential for the high societal impact will beg to ask the question
whether such large projects, whether coal based thermal projects or dam
based hydro electric projects, are really essential for our society. An
objective assessment of the following issues will help to provide a stark
reality as far as viable alternatives are concerned:
existing electricity industry infrastructure of our country in the areas
of generation, transmission, distribution and utilizations are known to
be grossly inefficient as compared to the international benchmark. There
is a considerable scope for improvement in these areas, which alone can
do away with the need for additional power generation capacity for few
There is a considerable potential to add to the generating capacity at
the existing stations through modern techniques like R, M & U and
through replacing old inefficient units with higher capacity efficient
The overall efficiency of energy conversion from Indian coal to electricity
and then to heating/motive power is very low, probably of the order of
15%. Despite this low conversion efficiency level and the heavy pollution
potential our planners have embarked on coal energy as a primary source
of electricity for next few decades at a tremendous cost to our resource
Though the transmission losses in some pockets of the network may compare
with that of the international benchmark, the aggregate transmission losses
are increasing and have considerable potential for reduction.
The aggregate technical and commercial losses in the electricity industry
are unbelievably high, of the order of about 40%. There is a scope to
bring this down below 10%, if international best practices are adopted
In addition, the utilization sector also has tremendous potential for
improvement as per the National Productivity Council, which is of the
opinion that there are opportunities to save energy to the extent of a
minimum 25%. The agricultural sector alone, which is known to be consuming
about 40% of all the available electricity in Karnataka, is understood
to be wasting 40 to 50% of the energy consumed at the individual pump
A conservative estimate of potentially hidden energy in all the above
mentioned areas reveals that the overall efficiency in the utilization
of the generated electricity for productive use in our country as a whole
could be of the order of only about 20 - 30%. The international experience
is that this efficiency can be improved to above 60%.
A 25% increase in the efficiency of the industry could mean virtual addition
of about 1,200 MW on a base of 4,500 MW installed capacity in the state
of Karnataka alone. As the Bureau of Energy Efficiency has mentioned,
at the prevailing cost of additional energy generation, it costs a unit
of energy about one fourth the cost to save than to produce it with new
capacity. This is in comparison to 1,500 MW as demanded by Karnataka from
the proposed ultra mega project in coastal Karnataka.
The potential available with non-conventional energy sources is very huge
for a tropical country like ours. The solar power technology for agricultural
water pumping, water heating and lighting has a great potential to reduce
the demand for grid quality electricity. It is estimated that in Karnataka
even if 75% of the AEH consumers, 50% of agricultural pump sets, and 50%
of the houses /offices /schools /street lights etc. can be encouraged
to install solar panels for water heating, pumping and for lighting, a
conservatively estimated 1,500 MW of morning peak demand, about 800 MW
of evening peak demand, and about 3,000 to 5,000 MU of energy per year
could be saved.
The bio-mass and wind energy also offer a lot of opportunities to reduce
demand for grid quality electricity in the state.
In view of all these possibilities a perplexing question to the common
public is as to why our society has not embarked in a big way on efficiency
improvement and demand side management measures, before adding new installed
capacity based on conventional fossil fuel technology at a huge cost.
Such alternative measures have smaller gestation periods, minimum environmental
impact, least social cost, and no recurring additional fuel cost, and
Distributed generation sources like solar, wind power and bio-mass are
ideally suited for isolated villages under rural electrification programme.
Such distributed generation sources, if deployed effectively, can reduce
the dependence on grid quality electricity and on the govt. expenditure
perpetually to a large extent, and could change the scenario from chronic
energy deficit to sustained energy security.
Distributed generation sources have the potential to be the main sources
of electrical energy in the long run without any of the problems associated
with the large size centralized generation projects.
Most of these alternative measures, aimed at high energy efficiency and
generating green power, could be eligible for Carbon Exchange Credits
under Clean Development Mechanisms with industrialized countries, which
means that a sizeable portion of the relevant costs can be recovered from
India, though not a signatory to the Kyoto protocol, is the sixth largest
emitter of Carbon-di-oxide, which is a green house gas known to be contributing
to the global warming phenomenon. Sooner than later there will be international
pressure on developing countries like India and China also to reduce the
Carbon emission. Even otherwise, it is only expected of a responsible
member of the comity of Nations that India demonstrates a sense of responsibility
by minimising the Carbon emission.
The electricity industry as a whole has the potential to be the biggest
polluter of our environment, if not managed responsibly.
Hence it is very sad that the local population and other concerned sections
of the society have not been consulted at all before deciding to go ahead
with such proposals. On the other hand the governments, even before preparing
the pre-feasibility report and any public consultation, are issuing statements
to the effect that all preparations are going on definitely in favour
of the project. It is unthinkable that in a democratic society like India,
such major policy decisions are being made without taking all the stake
holders into confidence.
Various governments and government agencies in our country would do well
to remind themselves that unlike 50 years ago, now the society has more
number of relevant experts outside of governments than inside the governments.
The expertise and the good intention of such people should be put into
Other alternatives: Once the above mentioned alternatives have been fully
exploited, if there is additional need for energy, the other alternatives
available to individual states like Karnataka and Maharastra for the longer
term energy security could be suitable understanding with other states
like Uttaranchal, Jharkand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh or private
agencies like Reliance or Tatas to provide us power supply. Some of the
issues that could be of relevance in this scenario are:
states like Uttaranchal, Jharkand, Orissa, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal
Pradesh etc. are keen on harnessing their rich energy sources like hydro
power and coal power. A long term agreement with these state governments
to supply assured quantity of power is one credible alternative. Already
many states are understood to be availing this opportunity. However, the
environmental issues in each of the individual locations should be properly
The private agencies like Reliance and Tatas are reported to be planning
super thermal projects in UP, Jharkahand and Orissa, who can provide assured
supply of power on long term basis.
Karnataka Power Corporation should also consider investing in some of
these projects outside of Karnataka as a partner and secure power supply
as return on investment. Such an option is certainly better than the ill
conceived idea of transporting coal over thousands of kM and putting up
coal fired power station in environmentally sensitive areas with all the
The alternative sites for such mega sized coal fires stations: If, in
the overall objective analysis, it turns out that the proposed mega sized
coal fired power stations are in the best interest of the nation aren’t
there alternative sites with lesser societal impact?
can we not consider the sites of old and inefficient coal power stations
in many states like UP, Bihar, Orissa etc? There are a large number of
such stations with very low PLF in many states. Such inefficient stations
are severe drains of the nation’s resources; why cannot we use such
sites, even if it means building entirely new facilities?
If an existing station site (say of few 60/110 MW units) is not adequate
to house the proposed 4,000 MW station, the possibility is always there
to spread 660/800 MW units at more locations than in two locations as
proposed. Such an approach may also address the issue of evacuation paths
for 4,000 MW in one location.
The resources like existing power station land, coal & ash handling
facilities, fresh water sources, transmission corridors etc, if needed
to be upgraded or even built anew shall be lot more acceptable to the
The Raichur Thermal Power Station in Karnataka has 7 units of 210 MW capacity
each and the 8th Unit is being planned. The first unit was commissioned
in 1980s, and is nearing the end of its economic life. KPCL should consider
whether it is feasible to put one unit of either 500/660/800 MW in place
of Unit 1 and the proposed Unit 8. Such a consideration can assist in
increasing the overall efficiency of the station, and also can produce
more power at the existing location. If this is feasible, the other units
also, could be considered for replacement by 800/1000 MW units at appropriate
Such old power station sites should be seriously considered instead of
looking to set up large coal fired power stations in environmentally sensitive
areas, and in the process destroy the thick forests or fertile agricultural
lands. As a resource constrained society with a large and growing population,
we have to be extremely conscious of the need to optimize the use of our
meager resources, so that we achieve the social, economical and environmental
goals on a sustainable basis.
a time when many of the developed countries like USA and in Europe, who
had depended upon coal fired power stations and had bitter experiences,
are moving away from such high pollution industries, we should learn lessons
from their experiences than re-inventing the wheels.
The need for a paradigm shift: All the points discussed in part I and
II of this series should serve to initiate a review of our national level
priorities on large power projects. As already experienced during last
few decades, the electricity industry has the potential to become the
worst abuser of our natural resources, if not managed properly. In this
regard some of the critical issues we, as a society, should address urgently
We cannot hope to attain energy security unless we increase the overall
efficiency of the electricity industry to the maximum extent possible,
adopt the best possible demand side management techniques, and conserve
energy. We should be able to clearly distinguish between the energy needs
and energy profligacy, and make all out efforts to reduce the wastage
to the minimum.
The entire electricity industry has to assume very high level of responsibility,
accountability and transparency, and achieve the levels of international
benchmarking in all business processes.
The western world’s practice of associating high per capita energy
consumption with progress is not suitable to our scenario, because it
is more than likely to encourage profligacy by certain sections of the
society than ensuring affordable energy for all. The earlier we stop comparing
the per capita electricity consumption of our country with that of OECD
countries like USA and Canada, it will be better for us to focus on issues
specific to our society.
We should assign objectively realistic value to forests, agricultural
fields, human displacement, and water resources in order to arrive at
realistic cost of supplying energy.
Tariff mechanisms can play a crucial role in encouraging energy efficiency
and energy conservation, and in discouraging energy profligacy. Suitable
tariff mechanisms should be implemented not only to achieve these objectives
but also to protect the weaker sections of the society.
For a modern welfare society it should be anathema that all the concerned
stake holders are not part of the decision making process. There should
be action plan to mandate effective public consultation at the stage of
application registration stage itself on all aspects of large project.
Such pro-active action will reduce the incidences of subsequent public
opposition to the approved projects, and corresponding project completion
delays. The bitter experience of Bedthi project in Uttara Kannada district
and Silent Valley project in Kerala, which had to be stopped because of
the popular opposition are examples of how things can go wrong without
The energy supplied at present is highly subsidized in many ways. What
our society doing at present is to supply inefficiently derived energy
from limited conventional sources at subsidized rates for highly inefficient/wasteful
end uses, for which the real subsidy cost will be debited to the account
of future generations. If we take into account all the relevant costs,
whether direct and indirect, in an objective manner the energy derived
from such large projects based on conventional technology will be much
higher than that is being projected by the project developers.
At a time when other primary sectors of our economy like poverty alleviation,
health and education are starving of funds shall we continue to pour thousands
of crores of Rupee worth precious resources in adding new generating capacity
through conventional technology only to end up with productive and economic
usage of about 20%, without first exploring cheaper alternatives?
In view of the fact that because of the extensive cultivation technique
adopted in our country we probably need more and more land areas to come
under the agricultural cover to cater to the growing population, such
projects will take away some of the most productive agricultural lands.
Since any human endeavor has a deleterious impact on the nature, we have
to be extremely cautious before even considering such large projects.
There cannot be any argument that the compensatory forests can never substitute
for natural forests, which have taken thousands of years to develop.
As a civilized society we should demonstrate adequate farsightedness by
constantly reminding ourselves of the obligations to our future generations.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, we should consider ourselves the Trustees of the
nature, which we inherited from our ancestors, only to hand it over to
the future generations in as pristine a condition as humanly possible.
In view of the present and future difficulties in getting adequate energy
through conventional energy sources, which is so vividly discussed in
the draft report on integrated energy policy by Planning Commission, the
inevitability of harnessing the renewable non-conventional sources become
evidently clear. Our society has a lot at stake in actively encouraging
the increased use of such sources and in participating in R&D activities
to reduce the relevant costs.
With only initial capital cost and negligible recurring costs, the efficient
deployment of non-conventional energy sources will not only eliminate
all the issues with conventional energy sources, but also will slowly
shift the burden of supplying energy from the State to individuals. It
may be safe to assert that the present day crises of meeting the basic
needs, including energy, is because the State has assumed the responsibility
of supplying basic needs to every one, as compared to past centuries when
the onus of arranging energy and the basic needs was with the individual,
which had naturally lead to higher efficiency and high level of conservation.
As a society we must debate whether the State can revert back to this
system as best as possible within the constraints of present day life.
Many energy intensive industries like steel, alumina, cement etc. are
embarking on measures like energy audits and conservation measures and
are reported to have reaped huge benefits. Why can’t our electricity
supply companies undertake similar measures to establish highest possible
The conclusions: In view of the close relationship between energy availability
and the progress of all sections of the society, and since the State has
failed to ensure adequate electricity to all by conventional means during
the past 58 years, we should adopt suitable non-conventional methods.
Electricity should not necessarily be viewed as grid quality electricity
alone, and the role of generating companies should be modified to that
of a champion of non-conventional energy also. Demand side management,
energy efficiency, and energy conservation should be considered as an
integral part of the corporate objective of all electricity companies.
society has to carefully deliberate on how much forest land and agricultural
land can it afford to loose to get additional power. The forest cover
as of today is only 19.1 % of the total land area against the national
forest policy target of 33%. With more and more of such large size projects
more and more forest cover and fertile agricultural lands would be lost.
With such policies we may never be able to attain the forest cover goal.
What would happen when we require more power in few years’ time?
Shall we go for more of coal fired stations in such environmentally sensitive
areas? Since the states like Karnataka have no known reserve of fossil
fuel sources it would not be a wise decision to opt for a coal fired station/gas
fired station and depend on imported energy sources on a perpetual basis.
From the energy efficiency point of view it is considered ideal to generate
electricity (if, by conventional means) very close to the source of primary
energy, and transmit it to the load centres.
state governments have a serious case to address the electricity requirement
on a sustainable basis to achieve energy security without compromising
on our fragile environment. The Western Ghats and coastal areas are too
precious from the welfare point of view of the entire region, and hence
we should not do anything which will damage them irreversibly. The state
governments should initiate public discussions in this regard before taking
any decision. A high powered committee of energy experts, environmentalists
and economists should debate these issues objectively, and come up with
a sustainable energy policy for each state.
serious implications of such large size polluting projects in a bio-diversity
hotspot have become a serious concern to the environmental scientists
and all the concerned citizens in Karnataka, who have already started
a mass based agitation against the proposal. The public would expect all
responsible governments to take such popular oppositions in the past into
account, and to avoid the wastage of public money by taking the progressive
route of effective public consultation.