Doubt cast on post-EIA monitoring of coal-fired power plant
KARACHI: People at a public hearing held at a hotel on Monday expressed doubts over the capacity, authority and influence of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) to carry out post-EIA (environmental impact assessment) monitoring of development projects and to ensure that public and private organisations comply with environmental laws and fulfil the commitments they make before the launch of a project.
Organised by Sepa, the public hearing was held for an EIA report on a coal-fired power plant project. The 350MW plant, which will cost about $550 million, is planned to be built on 100 acres in the area within the jurisdiction of the Port Qasim Authority (PQA).
The EIA of the project was conducted by EMC-Pakistan Private Limited.
Speaking about the country’s energy challenges and making a case for setting up coal-based power plants, project manager Absar Kazmi said there was a heavy reliance on coal for power generation the world over and about 40pc of world electricity was being produced with the help of coal. In Pakistan, he said, it’s a neglected area and the country’s power production from coal was less than one per cent.
“We are facing six to 20 hours of power loadshedding with a capacity shortfall of 6GW. The situation is having a very serious impact on the economy as reliance on oil import is increasing our circular debt that currently stands at Rs250bn,” he said, adding that Pakistan was producing 36pc electricity from oil, 31pc from hydro, 28pc from gas and only five per cent from nuclear sources.
He was of the opinion that coal-based power generation was integral for energy security as natural gas reserves were depleting while water crisis was getting grave.
Coal, he argued, was abundant and cheaper as compared to other energy sources. Besides, he added, it was not linked to volatile oil prices and was sustainable.
About the key design features of the power plant with an expected life of 30 years, he said that imported coal with low sulphur content (of less than 0.5pc) would be utilised in the pulverized coal generating plant.
The plant, he said, would have flue-gas desulphurization and continuous emission monitoring systems, besides having a filter bag-house (to absorb air pollutants), a 180-metre-high flue-gas stack, a 13-metre wind shield, covered coal conveyors, ash ponds, waste water treatment plant and water sprinklers at the coal storage.
Coal, he informed the audience, would be imported either from Indonesia or South Africa and would be off-loaded at the under construction Pakistan Internatio¬nal Bulk Terminal (PIBT). One million tonnes of coal would be utilized at the plant annually.
The company, he said, intended to spend an additional amount of $50m to take care of environmental concerns.
EMC-Pakistan EIA director Saquib Ejaz Hussain gave a detailed presentation on the environmental impact assessment of the project. According to him, the supercritical technology to be used by the company for power generation produced less carbon dioxide than other conventional technologies. The company planned to transport coal via covered trucks to control dust emissions.
Combustion of coal, he said, would result in generation of 19 tonnes of ash per hour; around 80pc fly ash and 20pc bottom ash.
“Fly ash will be continuously extracted and deposited in the fly ash storage silo. Ash will be moistened to minimize fugitive particles, and transported to ash pond via special ash trucks which are fully enclosed in form of metal tank,” he said.
Showing different slides, he said estimates derived from different modelling techniques had shown that air pollutants would remain well within the EPA limits and the project operation involved no threat to environment if the company took up the measures like installing a filter bag-house to check air pollution.
While most participants appreciated the effort to set up a coal-fired power plant and that, too, with efficient technology to minimize threats to environment, there was a shared concern regarding Sepa’s authority to implement environmental laws.
“It appears a good project but it’s important that all the commitments the company have made in the EIA report are met and is regularly monitored during construction and operational phases,” said former environment secretary Shamsul Haq Memon.
Sepa representatives present at the hearing responded to the criticism by telling the audience about the recent actions taken by Sepa against the Karachi Port Authority and other companies involved in poor handling of coal.
Senior environmentalist and project team leader Dr Mirza Arshad Ali Baig disapproved the use of imported coal and said: “It’s like shooting one’s self in the foot. While countries exporting their coal to us would benefit, we will be losing by non-utilization of our indigenous resources and contributing to carbon emissions at the same time,” he said, adding that Karachi’s minimum temperature had already increased by two per cent in 15 years.
“The law in Pakistan doesn’t have the teeth to bite. And, if there are teeth, they are artificial,” he remarked.
In reply to a question, the company representatives explained that it had been decided that the electricity generated by the plant would be supplied to the National Transmission and Despatch
They said Thar coal would be utilized for power generation by the plant as soon as it was available. The plant would be operational by 2019, they added.