Thermal Power companies fail to meet MoEF’s 100% fly ash use target

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[The Economic Times] NEW DELHI: Thermal power producers have yet again missed the 100% fly ash utilisation target set by the environment ministry, reporting underutilisation for the third straight year amid policy confusion over dumping of the effluent.

Although the proportion of fly ash utilisation in 2012-13 increased by 3% from a year ago, the number of thermal power plants that missed the target went up to 66 from 43, according to a report by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA).

The CEA monitors fly ash generation and utilisation on behalf of power ministry against the target set by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) as per its 2009 notification. The report pointed out that since domestic coal has ash content as high as 45%, it is necessary for thermal power producers to dispose it off according to guidelines to prevent harm to the environment.

Power plants, however, have been missing the mark, largely because of policy confusion. Even after fly ash is sold to cement makers, used for road embankments and other construction purposes, power plants are still left with huge quantities of the effluent. While power utilities have been demanding that it should be filled back in the mines, lack of co-ordination between the ministry of coal, the MoEF, coalmines and the power utilities has kept the plan in limbo.

India produced 163.56 million tonne of ash in 2012-13 and could utilise 63% of it. In 2011-12, against a production of 145 million tonne of ash, 60 million tonne went unutilised, lying at the sites of thermal power stations.

"In India, large-capacity thermal power plants are located at the pithead of coal mines cluster. These thermal plants have serious issue of ash utilisation being remote location," NTPC said in a letter to the coal ministry, asking for inclusion of back filling guidelines. The power producer suggested in the letter that back filling of ash in the mines is the only alternative for its bulk utilisation. A copy of the letter was reviewed by ET.

The environment ministry, in its gazette amendment on fly ash utilisation issued in 2009, asked for use of ash in back filling in the 50-km radius of thermal power plants located near the mines.

However, the coal ministry has failed to recognise this in its guidelines on closure of mines. "Pithead stations have large capacity and generate large quantum of ash, like a 3,000 mw station generates 20,000 tonne of ash every day. Mine authorities are not willing to accept ash due to high stripping ratio and swelling factor of OB," NTPC said in an emailed reply to ET's query on the matter. In the midst of this blame game, the carry forward quantum of fly ash has been increasing every year.

Adding to the problem is declining uptake by the cement industry, its largest consumer. "NTPC is selling dry ash at six stations and giving it free at the remaining nine stations.

As a policy decision, we are selling free ash to willing farmers for their fields," NTPC's spokesperson said in the emailed reply. A taskforce set up by the power ministry in 2011 had identified four mines near NTPC power plants for back filling of ash. The coal ministry, however, is yet to initiate or issue any notice on this.