THOOTHUKUDI: Setting the alarm bells ringing, a report of State Pollution Control Board (PCB) said the Air Quality Index (AQI) at the cluster of thermal power plants in the district is still poor due to high level of particulate matter (PM10).
The report gains significance as it comes at a time when the State government is focussing more on thermal power plants in the district, with Udangudi Super Critical Thermal power plant and a private SEPC thermal power plant are set to begin its operations soon. Plus, the National Clean Air programme had earlier categorised the coastal city as a 'non-attainment city'.
An AQI between 0-50 is deemed to be good, while 51-100 is satisfactory, 101- 200 is moderately polluted, 201-300 is poor, 301-400 is very poor and 401-500 is severe.
As per the TNPCB report, from January to September of 2021, the AQI values recorded at the air quality monitoring stations in the commercial area of AVM Jewelry building and the industrial area of SIPCOT complex are predominantly "Satisfactory" which means the AQI stands below 100, whereas those recorded at Raja Agency station, which is close to thermal power plants are "Moderate", with AQI between 101-200.
Interestingly, the pollution level had come down in May, 2021, as air quality monitoring stations at the industrial area of SIPCOT attained "Good" with the AQI value of 50 on May 27, while the commercial area recorded "Good" with the AQI value of 47 on May 7, besides the Raja Agency station recorded AQI value of "Satisfactory" for 7 out of 8 samples. A comparison of data shows the AQI remained "satisfactory" when the running-hours of the thermal plants are less.
According to the data, since 2017, the air quality of the industrial area around Raja Agency has been remaining unchanged, whereas that at the industrial hub of SIPCOT has improved since 2018. Sources said perhaps the SIPCOT area saw an improvement due to the closure of Sterlite Copper plant.
As operations of the thermal power plants impacting air quality is being debated globally, a notification of MoEF&CC had classified TPPs located within 10 km radius of Urban Agglomeration as category A and Critically Polluted Areas (CPA) as category B which needs to comply with the emission norms respectively before December 31, 2022 and December 31, 2023. With Thoothukudi city being a non-attainment city, TNPCB had instructed the thermal power plants to strictly comply with the stipulated emission norms before December, 2022.
Thoothukudi Thermal Power Station's unit 1 is one of the oldest and it has been operational since 1978.
Despite revision of the deadline for the third time, the government and private thermal power plants in the district are yet to comply with the order on retrofitting Flue Gas Desulphuriser (FGD). The FGD reduces the Sulphur Di-Oxide (SO2) from the flue gas being emitted from the chimney of the thermal power plants.
Prabhakaran Veeraarasu, an engineer associated with Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environmental organisation, told TNIE a typical thermal plant of 500 MW emits SO2 to the tune of 105 tonnes/day (TPD), NOx 24 TPD, ashes 3000 to 3500 TPD; and 2.5 TPD of Particulate Matters (PM) given that retrofitting of ElectroStatic Precipitator (ESP). "Without retroffitting FGD, the thermal power plants can not achieve the emission standards stipulated by the MoEF&CC", he said, adding the TNPCB should also monitor the mercury level being emitted.
Meanwhile, Chief Engineer of Thoothukudi Thermal Power Plant, listed under category B, said a tender was floated to retrofit FGD. "The project will be completed in 10 months after the implementing agency is finalised," he added.
A senior official of NTPL Thermal power station, which is also under category B said Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) has been awarded the project to implement FGD at an estimated cost of Rs 755 crore. "The work will be completed before the deadline of December 2023," he said.
However, the private Coastal Energen Private Limited, is yet to take a concrete decision on installing FGD, since the plant has been taken over by Interim Resolution Professional (IRP) following insolvency order issued by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCPT) on February 4. The other private thermal power plant Ind Bharat remains non-functional for more than three years, according to TNPCB officials.
Upon failing to comply with the deadline, the thermal power plants falling under category B would pay environmental compensation of Rs 0.07 per unit electricity generated until a timeline of 0-180 days and it may increase to Rs 0.10 for 181-365 days and 0.15 if it continues to operate beyond a year.