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Freshwater-based coal power plants guzzle the most water: CSE

Six years after the introduction of water consumption norms, the water-guzzling power industry continues to ignore water regulations. A new report from the Centre for Science and Environment, (CSE), reveals that there is high levels of non-compliance in the sector.

The coal power sector, which is considered one of the most water-intensive in India, accounts for almost 70% of all freshwater withdrawals by Indian industries. According to the report, “Water Inefficient Power”, Indian power plants that have cooling towers use twice as much water than their global counterparts.

The 2015 norms, which were revised in 2018, required plants to consume 3.5 cubic metres of water per hour. Plants installed before January 1, 2017 had to comply with the norm of three cubic metres of water per hour. Plants installed after January 1, 2017 also had to adhere to zero liquid discharge.

All freshwater-based plants had to have cooling towers installed and then achieve the norm of 3.5 cubic metres of water per MWh. The norms were not applicable to seawater-based plants.

December 2017, which was the deadline for meeting water norms, has passed. Along with the emission norms, water norms were also introduced for coal power plants in 2015. The Ministry of Coal has revised the emission norm timelines twice, once in 2017 and again in 2021. However, compliance with and implementation of water norms was completely ignored, according to a CSE release.


Nivit Kumar Yadav (CSE’s programme director for Industrial Pollution Unit), stated that this is when many power-producing regions face acute water shortages. The power plants’ effluents also cause water pollution. CSE examined more than 154 GW total coal power capacity, and found that nearly half of freshwater-based plants were not compliant. These plants are mainly owned by state-owned enterprises.

Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh had the largest numbers of non-compliant plants. These plants belong to UPRVUNL (Uttar Pradesh’s power generation company) or MahaGENCO (Maharashtra’s power generation corporation). The majority of them are old and have inefficient practices that lead to water loss.

CSE’s survey found that India’s old, inefficient cooling water-based plants continue to function without cooling towers. The survey found that these plants not only flout water norms, but also emit emission norms.

All power plants that were once-through-based in India were built before 1999. They are polluting and old. Many of these plants have been identified as being in need of retirement, but they are still operating. They are still in operation and there is no plan to upgrade or install cooling towers or emission control equipment.

“Allowing older plants to pollute can’t be allowed. If plants are identified as being in retirement, they must be shut down immediately.

According to the CSE, almost 48 percent of India’s coal power fleet is found in water-scarce areas like Nagpur and Chandrapur (Maharashtra); Raichur in Karnataka and Korba respectively; Barmer in Rajasthan and Baran; Khammam in Telangana; Cuddalore and Kothagudem respectively in Tamil Nadu. Conflicts over water use have been reported between local residents and industries.

This sector has a large water footprint, and all efforts must be made in order to reduce it. It is possible to reduce the sector’s water consumption by implementing the 2015 standards, addressing the issues of accurate reporting data, inefficient cooling plants that are old and inefficient, and implementing zero discharge in the newer plants.

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