Why are thermal power plants still being encouraged by the state of Telangana?

Columnist  | Hema Vaishnavi

Opinion, Oped

While all this is linked to the slump in economic growth, the effect, nonetheless, is on energy transition.

As part of its National Action Plan for the 11th Plan period, the Government of India announced a domestic goal of reducing the volume of carbon emissions released per unit of the country’s GDP.

The climate crisis is slated to have a drastic effect on the economy. Although the Government of India and subsequently the state governments have made policies to address the problem, either by switching to renewables or thwarting fossil fuel power production, we are far from combating climate change and switching to renewables.

The states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are home to five of the top ten districts which are expected to face severe environmental consequences if the causes of climate change are not addressed. These states are gearing towards a climate catastrophe and the state policies aren’t exactly helping.

The national and state plans start off by emphasising on the current abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere as compared to the year 1750, which now stands at 395.5 ppm. The document stresses that greenhouse gases (GHGs) need to be cut by 40-70 per cent by 2050, from the level in the year 2010, and that fossil fuels should be phased out completely by 2100.

As part of its National Action Plan for the 11th Plan period, the Government of India announced a domestic goal of reducing the volume of carbon emissions released per unit of the country’s GDP. The government has outlined how “low carbon strategies will particularly require enhanced deployment of renewable and clean energy technologies, and capital finance for improvements in technology”.

But, when it comes to Telangana, no such state emission targets have been set yet. It seems rather puzzling to know how the state’s policies are laid out without an emission count and target. Especially considering how the state of Telangana has been experiencing extreme weather events in the past few years in the form of climate variability, affecting its agricultural output, and leading to intense droughts, heatwaves and floods. In the year 2018, the state of Telangana lost “1,682 hectares of forest cover as negative changes in forest cover were observed in 410 forest compartments.” With increasing emissions from the upcoming thermal power plants and decreasing forest area in the state, how will the state sequester the forthcoming emissions?

Currently, the state of Telangana is at an installed capacity of 4,422 MW from thermal coal-based power generation.

If you look back, in the year 2009, the Government of India directed all the state governments to draft a State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC), in keeping with the approach laid out by the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). So far, 28 states, including the state of Telangana, are known to have rolled out state action plans. EPTRI (Environment Protection Training and Research Institute) prepared the SAPCC for combined Andhra Pradesh, which was endorsed by the National Steering Committee on Climate Change, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2013. After the bifurcation of the state, a state action plan was prepared for the state of Telangana in 2015.

The state action plan lays out the importance of how the state is being sourced by a mere 20 per cent of the total energy supply from hydropower projects, and outlines the importance of finding “renewable and non-coal based sources”. The state action plan also outlines how the use of fossil fuel is the principal contributor to climate change. Over “81 per cent of the emissions from fuel production can be attributed to six states where coal, oil and natural gas are produced”; leading among them is the erstwhile combined state of Andhra Pradesh.

This month, the state government of Telangana exempted TS Genco from conducting a social impact study for acquiring 234 acres for the `20,000-crore 4,000 MW thermal power plant at Veerlapalem village in Nalgonda’s Damaracharla mandal. Just last month, the Singareni Collieries Company Ltd (SCCL) in Telangana got the green signal for expanding its `5,879.62 crore thermal power project in the state, from the existing 1,200 MW to 2,000 MW capacity in Mancherial. With these projects, the state will be increasing its power generation capacity from 4,422 MW to 10,222 MW from thermal power plants alone.

The state action plan also lays out an estimated budget of `3,425 crore from 2017-2022 for electricity generation using non-conventional sources. Despite this, the renewable transition is suffering, and the state is actively gearing towards investment in coal-based power generation. With this active coal-based power generation, the state will experience a setback in its carbon emissions target, which is yet to be decided or even outlined in the State Action Plan documents. Studies have found that for every fossil fuel burned in India “at least three quarters of a ton of carbon is released as CO2. It has been found that 0.8-0.9 kg/kWh CO2 is emitted in Indian power plants”. Moreover, emissions from combustion of coal are currently responsible for over 60 per cent of the enhanced greenhouse effect.

Although Telangana’s action plan has an estimated Rs 312 crores for the promotion of affordable alternative energy sources i.e. solar home systems, solar street lights, solar thermal systems, the renewable energy industry is slowly and gradually failing to make it in the market because of de-incentivisation from state governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. For instance, the state of Andhra Pradesh has either lowered the energy tariffs for renewable energy or has stopped its generation altogether because of mounting dues. While all this is linked to the slump in economic growth, the effect, nonetheless, is on energy transition.

So, the bigger question here is, why is the state still pursuing thermal power generation instead of divesting the money towards renewables? While the state of Andhra Pradesh is still drafting its State Action Plan, the Telangana documents do not mention or suggest that there will be divestment from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy. Cutting down of fossil fuels energy production is not even a priority, and neither is replacement.