The burning of coal and beyond


downloadCoal sector is merely emerging out of policy paralysis subsequent to Coal Scam but  it seems that the sector’s trouble is not yet over. As the sector is gearing up to make up what it has lost interregnum the cancellation and auction of coal concessions for the private sector it is being impeded by environmental activists of “Greenpeace”

The scene yesterday at the Meridian Hotel, New Delhi was a testimonial to the rising tempers against the coal-based energy. While 6th Coal Summit was organised  by India  Energy Forum in the conference Hall of Hotel Le Meridian, New Delhi and the topic of the conference was “Indian Coal “Sustaining the Momentum” the entrance of Corridor was agog with yet another conference with the topic “Why Sustain Momentum Through  Coal” organised by “GREENPEACE” .

It was interesting to listen to the contrasting views of the two protagonists of the energy. The conference was inaugurated by Anil Swaroop, Secretary Ministry of Coal and there were a wide range of topics were discussed. On one hand, while Coal India is upbeat on the growth of coal production taking it to a billion tonne year mark in coming years there appeared to be a lack of same enthusiasm, in the power producers as there are confusing signals on the power demand and growth. While on one hand, the per capita power consumption in India is meagre one-fourth of China and one fifteenth of US yet the power producers are finding it difficult to sell power. The reasons are debatable but one thing is clear that there is this vicious circle of power subsidies being granted by one political party after the other during the election sops. The results are the state electricity boards are bleeding for funds as they are subsidising power and supplying power at a price lower than the cost and this undercover is spiralling with no solution in sight. The mounting losses of these entities are making them incapable of buying power and to pay for additional power. This is thus a vicious circle that although there is demand but more purchase of power leads to bigger losses of state electricity boards. Further, these boards are cross-subsidising with commercial and industrial power , with the results making industry non-competitive.

On one hand with open bidding and the tendering process of coal mine, the cost of coal is going to go up on the other side there is almost a monopoly by Coal India Ltd. whose efficiency has always been questioned and some of the participants did raise the question of arbitrary price rise of coal by Coal India. There was a grudge against railways also as the increase in freight also adversely impacting the cost of the generation which ultimately has a bearing of power purchase agreements which are not so easy to accommodate these factors. While movement of coal is bread and butter for railways as 48% of railway freight earning comes from coal yet again it is another monopoly as the road is not an alternative. So in a way power sector is sandwiched between Railway, Coal India the two monopolies and the state electricity boards which quite often default in regular clearance of the power bills.

 In such a scenario the onslaught by Greenpeace where in their report “Trashing Tiger Land”highlighted the threat posed by coal mining to more than million hectares of forests which include habitat of tigers, elephants and another endangered species is another thorn in the flesh. They also raised yet another concern which is becoming more louder with each coming day is air pollution caused by burning of coal in thermal plants. As per this report, Air pollution emitted by thermal power plants is responsible to 80,000 to 125,000 premature deaths in India every year.

The debate does not seem to end or to bring any conclusion. But the facts cannot be ignored. India is growing with more than 70,000 birth taking place everyday, we are far behind the energy requirement and consumption, even in this era hundreds of Indian villages are without power, there is a need for more and more power production. As per the estimate of Arun Srivastava of TATA Power according to Industry Estimate until 2030 there is likely to be the growth of coal-based power plants which are likely to stagnate or diminish beyond this period to be taken over by renewable energy segments.

The debate between coal-based power or renewable energy is more likely on the patterns of Organic v/s chemically produced food. It is impossible to feed the size of the population in India without the use of chemical fertilisers although the organically grown food may be better but can India survive without coal based power plant where today more than 60% of power is produced by the coal-based thermal power plant?

Let the debates go on burn as an Indian we need power and energy for each and every person !