Tata Power Co. Ltd's plan to convert one of the units at its Trombay power plant on the outskirts of Mumbai from an oil-based unit to a coal-run unit has received support from a Maharashtra government committee. The committee, set up after a snag at the plant in September led to power outages across the city, has recommended the conversion be done on a priority basis. The committee was chaired by state energy secretary Ajoy Mehta.
The proposal continues to face opposition from political parties like the Shiv Sena and non-government organizations that are resisting the conversion on grounds that it would add to pollution levels.
Tata Power's Trombay power plant has a total capacity of 1,580 megawatts (MW). On 2 September, a 500MW unit developed a snag, after another 250MW unit had been shut for maintenance. This lead to power outages across the city.
Tata Power reduced supplies, increased generation at its hydro power units and activated a 500MW oil-based unit, which had been on standby. However, the power generated using liquid fuel such as furnace oil, diesel and naphtha costs Rs.12-14 per unit, compared with the Rs.2-4 per unit cost of coal-based power.
This led to a dispute between Tata Power and BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport), which distributes power between Colaba and Nariman Point in South and Mahim and Sion in the North, over who would pay for the higher cost. It is this unit that Tata Power now wants to run on coal.
In its report, the government committee recommends that in order to avoid such situations in the future, "urgent steps should be taken for conversion of Unit 6 from oil based to coal one." However, the Shiv Sena, which was in opposition then, and various non-governmental organizations continue to oppose the proposed conversion. They claim that the eastern suburbs are already among the most polluted parts of the city. Conversion of Tata Power's power plant from oil to coal will add to the pollution levels, they claim.
"We joining the government doesn't change the situation on ground, so our opposition for such conversion will continue and if government is serious about solving Mumbai's power woes then it should come out with policies which will increase installation of rooftop solar panels on large residential, commercial and educational buildings in city," said Arvind Sawant, a Sena member of parliament and spokesman.
Environmental activist and trustee of the Conservation Action Trust, Debi Goenka, said Tata Power received permission to start work on the unit in the mid-1980s only after it submitted an affidavit to the Bombay high court that the unit will run either on oil or gas and coal would not be used to fuel it. "...now, Tata Power wants to go back on its word for short-term commercial gains, which is not in the interest of city," said Goenka.
The management of Tata Power countered these concerns by saying it has environmental clearance for the proposed conversion. "We already have environmental clearance in place for such conversion, but we want political consensus before we start work as we don't want to impose on the people of the city," said Tata Power's managing director Anil Sardana in a media briefing after the 2 September outage. Goenka said the environment clearance had been challenged before the National Green Tribunal. A hearing is scheduled for 22 January.
"Considering liquid fuel based power is very costly and there are constraints on bringing power in Mumbai from outside, conversion on coal of unit 6 is the only option," said Ashok Pendse, an independent power sector analyst, adding that the Sena's suggestion to use solar power was impractical.
"On an average to generate 1MW of power one needs five acres of land; even if we use Mumbai's rooftop potential to fullest, generating 500MW of power won't be possible," he said.