Emission Watch – Status assessment of SO₂ emissions and FGD installation for coal-based power plants in West Bengal

Seven years after the December 2015 emission standard notification for coal-based power stations, not one single power station in West Bengal has installed technology to reduce SO2 emissions. The emission standards were notified for the first time in December 2015 in India for coal-based power stations to limit emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and mercury (Hg), along with tightening particulate matter emissions standards and setting water consumption limits.

In this Emission Watch, CREA assessed the air pollution impacting the population of West Bengal that faces severe health risks due to the state’s reliance on dirty coal energy. CREA’s analysis found that more than 40% of coal-based power generation capacity has not yet awarded the bids for Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) plants, indicating that no substantial action has been taken to minimise pollution at source.

What adds to this grim scenario is that none of the other units comprising the remaining 60% capacity was able to complete the pollution reduction technology installation within the allotted time frames, which had already been extended three times over the previous seven years.

 Increase in NOx emissions in West Bengal over 2019-2021 coinciding with the location of power generation stations and increasing coal consumption

Air pollution from coal-fired power plants not only impacts people in its immediate vicinity but travels long distances, and the concentration levels puts everyone at risk, especially vulnerable citizens such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women.

Key findings of the report:

  • None of the coal-based power stations in West Bengal installed SO2 control technology over the past seven years since the emission standard notification for coal-based power stations was published in December 2015.
  • More than 40% of the coal-based power generation capacity has not taken significant action to reduce pollution at source, this includes not awarding bids for FGD installations.
  • None of the other units for the remaining 60% capacity managed to retrofit installations within the stipulated time limits that have already been extended three times over the past seven years.
  • SO2 emissions from power plants can be reduced by up to 86% at some units.
  • Private sector power generation units are the worst when it comes to retrofits to control SO2 emissions; not one of them has awarded the bids after seven years of emission norms being in force. 
  • The coal consumption for grid-connected power generation in West Bengal has increased from 44 MT in 2015 to 54 MT in 2021.
  • There is a lack of transparent public data disclosure for pollutant emissions from Online Continuous Emission Monitoring Stations (OCEMS) by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), or the power companies with the public; there is restricted access even for the WBPCB, which is the state pollution regulator.

Sunil Dahiya, Analyst, CREA