Thrust stays on coal power in 12th plan

Despite the Indian government  oft-repeated assertions on giving a push to non-conventional and renewable energy resources, as well as the Indo-US nuclear deal, which was supposed to kick-start nuclear power projects, its actual thrust continues to be firmly on coal burning thermal power plants.The Planning Commission’s presentation paper for the approach to the 12th five-year plan (2012-17) talks of diversifying into solar, wind and nuclear energy to limit the country’s carbon footprint but puts the real money into coal-fired power plants. The paper, presented at the full meeting of the Planning Commission nevertheless points out lack of funds as a major constraint in solar energy not taking off in the country, which lags way behind China in tapping sun power.

India’s total investment in green energy projects such as solar, wind and mini-hydel projects adds up to $ 4 billion in 2010, according to a US research paper. China, on the other hand, hiked its investment to a record $54.4 billion in 2010, up 39 per cent over the last year. Global trends show that the solar sector experienced the strongest growth among the various green technologies, led by small-scale residential projects. Declining prices and generous government in European countries and China helped the solar sector achieve 40 per cent of total clean energy investment in 2010.

But the Planning Commission does not seem to envisage a major technological breakthrough in the solar energy space at this point either. This is reflected in its view that the cost of solar power is expected to remain above traditional fuels. The full meeting of the Planning Commission, has targeted the setting up of additional power generating capacity of 1,00,000 MW for the 12th five-year plan (2012-2017), the bulk of which will come from coal-fired plants. The target is twice the 50,000 MW capacity that is expected to be completed during the 11th five-year plan period between 2007-12 and is considered a must if the gross domestic product (GDP) growth target of nine to 9.5 per cent is to be achieved. According to the Planning Commission, the heavy dependence on imported coal will continue in the 12th plan as the quality of Indian coal is poor and mining projects have been held up due to environmental issues.

The Plan Panel’s presentation paper states that Coal India Ltd, would have to expand its role from a mere producer of coal to a supplier of coal for which it would have to arrange for more imports. This imported coal would be mixed with Indian coal to improve the overall thermal quality to fire coal plants. The Plan Panel has projected that thermal coal imports would touch a phenomenal 250 million tonnes a year in the 12th plan and this would require the creation of additional infrastructure in railways and ports.

According to Planning Commission, the country would not shelve its nuclear plans due to the Fukushima nuclear crisis as India was not as vulnerable to earthquakes as Japan. He said India would continue with its nuclear power plans but will ensure that the safety measures are up to the best global standards. “This will entail extra expenditure that will raise the cost of power production . According to experts the long gestation period for setting up nuclear plants means that they do not provide a near term solution to India’s power needs.