Sampur power plant:India's double talk

Will coal plants enhance CKD incidence?


by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

The recent article by Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya (The Island of 05.07.12) highlighting the delay in starting work on the Sampur coal power plant (CPP) prompted me to write this article.

Sampur Project

This project was conceived several years ago to be executed in collaboration with India’s National Thermal Power Corporation of India (NTPC), a government owned company. The MOU for the project was signed between CEB and NTPC last September. Initially, a 500 MW coal power plant will be built at Sampur, south of Koddiyar Bay. A high voltage DC link between Sampur and India to transfer power either way was also included in the project. However, as Dr TS has mentioned, the progress seem to have got stalled somewhere. According to CEB’s Long Term Generation Expansion (LTGE) Plan of 2011, two of 250 MW CPP are planned to be added to the grid by 2017 and another two coal plants each of 250 MW to be added in 2018 and 2019.

Bilateral discussions with India

According to the political write up that appeared in Irida Lankadeepa on 01.07.12, Sampur project had been a topic that was included in the bilateral discussion between our Minister of Power and Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka and India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh held last 21st in New Delhi. Dr Singh supposed to have inquired about the delay in the Sampur project, and apparently our own minister had to provide an explanation saying that the project was awaiting approval by the newly appointed board, appointed jointly by the two parties, India and Sri Lanka, and that the ball was now in India’s court. Mr. Singh is supposed to have instructed his officials to find out where the delay was and to get the project expedited.

Mr. Singh appears to be very much concerned that there is no delay in building a CPP in Sri Lanka. However, Dr. Singh’s action appears to be contradictory to the position that he took at the Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen in 2009. India, along with 4 other countries authored the Copenhagen Accord which requires all countries to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. India therefore has no moral right to now tell Sri Lanka that we should go for coal to generate our electricity which will result in increasing the country’s emissions.

In keeping with the Copenhagen Accord co-authored by India, what India should be doing now is to promote introduction of natural gas to Sri Lanka instead of promoting coal. Perhaps, Dr Singh himself may be preoccupied to draw his attention to the details of Sri Lanka’s power situation, and what he has said during the discussion with our minister could be something based on a briefing given to him. His advisers should have known better to see that there is no inconsistency in what Dr Singh says at bilateral talks and at international fora.

Concerns at Climate

Change meetings

The main agenda at the Copenhagen conference was the extension of the Kyoto Protocol under which the developed country Parties numbering 39 were required to reduce their GHG emissions by a percentage of about 5% during 2008-2012 below their 1990 emission levels. Many countries however have not complied with this requirement. Also, countries like USA withdrew from the Protocol saying that unless countries that are emitting large quantities like China and India are included in the scheme, they will not make any commitments to reduce emissions. These two countries as well as other large industrialized countries like Brazil and South Africa were exempted from the Protocol because their per capita emissions were small even though the gross emissions were high. At the first Conference of the Parties held in Berlin in 1995, Mr. Kamal Nath, Indian Minister of Environment said that in India, GHGs emitted were emissions of survival, while in the west, those were emissions of affluence. China and India want to maintain this distinction.

The climate scientists through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were in the meantime alerting the nations that at the present rate of emissions, very soon, global warming will get enhanced beyond the threshold causing irreparable damage to the world’s ecosystems, health of people, natural resources including scarce water resources and the climate in general. Hence there was general consensus among nations that the emission reduction targets should be further tightened and in fact there were several proposals in the agenda giving specific alternative enhanced targets. The parties generally had the feeling that the conference should agree on one or other of these options, other than of course USA who had expressed their reservations. China and other industrialized developing countries wanted only the developed countries to bear the responsibility though there was pressure from others that they too should do something.

Copenhagen Accord

The Conference till the last day could not come to an agreement on an acceptable alternative. Till that time the European Union and several other countries had expressed their agreement to undertake reduction to the extent of 20-30% below 1990 levels but there was no agreement on what the developing countries should be doing. As usually done in such situations, a small group of countries was named to have discussions behind closed doors and present their recommendation to the final plenary session. This group included China, India, Brazil and South Africa. While they were having discussions, an unusual incident happened. An outsider broke into the meeting, and that was President Obama. With his rhetoric he was able to turn the discussions completely to his liking. He offered finances amounting to billions of dollars to developing countries enabling them to undertake emission reduction targets. He also suggested that even the developed countries should not commit to any binding targets meaning totally abolishing of the Kyoto Protocol, and even the EU agreed to this new development.

So, the five parties – China, India, Brazil, South Africa and USA came out with the Copenhagen Accord with the main theme that all parties – both developed and developing- voluntarily agreeing to set targets – both extent and time frame - for emission reductions and that these targets should be notified to the Convention Secretariat. The Accord when tabled at the final session was only taken note by Parties without formally adopting it. A very few countries however supported it before the session closed. Subsequently, many more countries had conveyed their consent with targets sent to the Secretariat because they feared that otherwise they may not become eligible for receiving funding.

India was thus a co-author of the Copenhagen Accord which required all countries to undertake reductions of emissions. A key sector of emissions is the power sector and most emissions come from burning of coal. Between a coal power plant and a natural gas power plant of similar capacity and plant factor, the latter emits 55% less CO2 than that from a coal plant. India, at this conference, was essentially telling the world community that they should not be using coal for electricity generation but instead use some other sources such as natural gas. So, now India cannot be telling us that we should use coal for power generation.

To be continued tomorrow

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