Mega coal power projects in eco-sensitive areas run into green roadblock

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POWER

By Samiran Saha

Dark tidings Odisha’s ultra mega power project too awaits clearance
Dark tidings Odisha’s ultra mega power project too awaits clearance Photo:  Shailendra Pandey

AFTER THE awarding of four ultra mega power plants (UMPPs) to private developers, the government’s flagship programme to boost power generation to 1,00,000 MW by 2012 has hit a major roadblock. Following a Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) directive, several sites that were near coal pitheads and ideally suited for UMPPs, which are to have a capacity of 4,000 MW each, have now been designated as “no-go” areas. This means coal mining will not be allowed at these sites, making them unsuitable for coal pithead power projects.

Each of these 4,000 MW power plants can meet the needs of a city the size of Delhi

“The very purpose of having pitheadlocated UMPPs will be defeated because, after the MoEF directive, no infrastructure projects can come up at sites that were earlier designated for UMPPs,” a retired bureaucrat, who helped draft the UMPP policy, said on condition of anonymity. However, Sasan in Madhya Pradesh, a pithead location that was awarded to Reliance Power Ltd, a part of the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, is expected to go ahead as per schedule, because the bid was approved before the MoEF edict.

Although alternative sites are being sought, the Power Finance Corporation Ltd (PFC), the nodal agency for awarding UMPPs, is finding the going tough, as these huge power projects need substantial chunks of land. “This is why the PFC has been unable to invite fresh bids for Akaltara (Chhattisgarh) and Bedabahal (Odisha). The Ministry of Power is in talks with the MoEF to find a middle ground,” said a PFC official who did not want to be identified.

India plans to build 16 such power projects, at an estimated cost of Rs. .20,000 crore each. Four UMPPs have already been awarded, of which the one in Mundra, Gujarat, has been bagged by Tata Power Ltd. Three others, awarded to Reliance Power, will be located at Sasan in Madhya Pradesh, Krishnapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and Tillaiya in Jharkhand. The Krishnapatnam UMPP is the largest power project in south India and will supply power to four states — Andhra Pradesh (1,600 MW), Maharashtra (800 MW), Tamil Nadu (800 MW) and Karnataka (800 MW), lighting up nearly 300 million households.

Each of these 4,000 MW plants is capable of meeting the needs of a city the size of Delhi, which has a peak demand of nearly 4,300 MW a day. But at the moment the outlook seems as dark as a coal pit.

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