Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2014 introduced in the Parliament, last year, leaves more questions than answers. The bill was listed for discussion in Monsoon session. The logjam in both the houses i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, resulted in a complete wash out; as a result the bill may resurface in winter session. It is important to start the conversation on the given bill in public, so that parliamentarians can have informed discussion. There are certain flaws in the current framing of bill, which need to be rectified and are presented in the post below:
The whole bill will not be reviewed in this post, inputs and reflections will be restricted to the sections on ‘renewable energy’. According to the bill, “ renewable energy sources” for the purposes of this Act, means the small hydro, wind, solar, bio-mass, bio-fuel, bio-gas, co-generation from these sources, waste including municipal and solid waste, geothermal, tidal, forms of oceanic energy and such other sources as may be notified by the Central Government from time to time.
Energy derived through the process of incineration of waste including municipal and solid waste is categorised as ‘renewable energy’. This is not at all acceptable. It is a definition evolved for convenience purposes and leaves the emerging discourse on ‘waste to energy’ at bay.
Let’s look at the internationally accepted definitions of renewable energy sources:
As per United States Environment Protection Agency ‘Renewable energy includes resources that rely on fuel sources that restore themselves over short periods of time and do not diminish. Such fuel sources include the sun, wind, moving water, organic plant and waste material (eligible biomass), and the earth’s heat (geothermal).’ In this definition reference to waste material is limited to eligible biomass and not extended to dry waste or inorganic/inert waste.
International Energy Agency calls ‘energy derived from natural processes (e.g. sunlight and wind) that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed. Solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and some forms of biomass are common sources of renewable energy.’
Texas legislature has further strengthened the framing by passing the following definition in the state legislature: ‘Renewable energy: Any energy resource that is naturally regenerated over a short time scale and derived directly from the sun (such as thermal, photochemical, and photoelectric), indirectly from the sun (such as wind, hydropower, and photosynthetic energy stored in biomass), or from other natural movements and mechanisms of the environment (such as geothermal and tidal energy). Renewable energy does not include energy resources derived from fossil fuels, waste products from fossil sources, or waste products from inorganic sources.’
Henceforth, Indian understanding of ‘Renewable Energy Sources’ stands against the internationally accepted and prevalent norms. It has been widely agreed that inorganic/inert waste which includes plastic, paper, clothes, rubber (the list is not exhaustive) is worth recycling, up-cycling and down-cycling and should not be incinerated for energy recovery. There are certain categories of waste which are not yet being recycled; they may become valuable and useful in the coming years, thus there is no need of shunting them to incinerators.
Those who have proposed the given definition fail to recognise the impact of incineration on environment, livelihood and economy at large. Further it is also important to state that incineration of waste instead of discouraging, encourages waste generation. Incineration Plants will need more waste to generate energy for quenching the growing demand, thus the vicious cycle of waste generation continues.
In the given bill, ‘Waste to energy’ is defined as renewable energy source, companies and individuals involved in energy generation from incineration will get the benefits like tax rebates, generation linked incentives, access to proposed ‘national renewable energy fund’ etc., which rightfully belong to those who are doing innovations in solar, wind and biomass.
The bill proposes mandatory purchase of electricity produced from ‘renewable energy sources’ by distribution licensee: “distribution licensee means a licensee authorised to operate and maintain a distribution system for supplying electricity to the consumers in his area of supply”. Thereby, the bill makes it mandatory to purchase the ‘energy’ generated by incineration.
Why opposition to ‘waste to energy’ or energy derived from solid and municipal waste?
This question has been very well answered in the concept note prepared by Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives (GAIA) India for their workshop themed ‘Is Energy from Waste- the Fuel of Future? Risk Associated and the Alternatives’, the extracts of it are shared below: The Past and Present of Waste to Energy in India:
The Indian experience with Waste to energy has not been successful at all. There is enough evidence on the harmful impacts of waste to energy incinerators and why it has failed on social, economical, and environmental grounds. As early as 1984, a plant was set up in Delhi with technical help from Denmark. This was closed down due to administrative and technical reasons. Selco set up a plant in Hyderabad in 2002, and Sriram Energy set up another plant in the same year near Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. Both of them closed down due to financial reasons. Jindal’s plant in Okhla was set up in 2007, and it has met with opposition from local communities.
Despite these failures and resistance from local communities, the government continues to experiment with waste-to-energy programmes providing huge subsidies to the companies. Here’s a look at the most unsuccessful WTE plants in India:
The most controversial Okhla Waste To Energy (WTE) plant sits in 15 acres of prime land, between the Apollo Hospital and the offices of country’s top scientific research body. It was set up with a Danish collaboration by Jindal group at a cost of INR 290 crores, which ran only for weeks and failed. The plant has been controversial right from the beginning, with residents complaining about foul smell and fly ash. The plant claimed to process 1400 MT of waste per day has failed to produce a single megawatt of the much promised power from waste but has given the communities living nearby an unhealthy dose of cancerous emissions. The air around this incinerator contains life threatening levels of particulates and toxic chemicals including dioxins, which was 30-40 times above permissible limits according to studies by the Central Pollution Control Board.
Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Corporation of Chennai in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu Industrial Corporation (TIDCO) had initiated a scheme to start waste to energy plant at Perungudi in July 1997 based on the gasification/ pyrolysis technology. The cost of the plant proposed by a top Australian company was nearly Rs 200 crore with about 12-15MW electricity likely to be generated. A massive INR 30 crore was to be subsidized by Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). No environmental study was conducted about this project and no public consultation was taken. Neither the information about the technology chosen was proved or tested. As a result, the parent company had to withdraw funding citing economic viability of the plant.
In Hyderabad a WTE plant was started in 1999 based on refuse derived fuel (RDF) technology. It also promoted the scattered burning of plastic wastes. This is a pilot project run by a company called Selco. It is located next to Ganganiguda Municipal land dump which receives nearly 1300 tonnes of garbage every day from Hyderabad city. The installed capacity of the plant is 1000 tonnes/ day and it can manufacture 200-250 tonnes / day of fuel pellets. Though the calorific value of fuel pellet is 4000 kcal/kg only, the company claims that it can be increased to 6000 Kcal/kg. The plant is not operational since then. The reasons cited were malfunctioning of boiler, non-availability of MSW as per the agreement and lack of financial support.
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
In Lucknow a waste to energy project was set up at a cost of INR 84 crores. When the plant was commissioned the objective was to generate 5 MW of electricity using biodegradable waste. The plant generated a mere 0.3 to 0.5 MW and was shut down in May 2005. This also resulted in Supreme Court ordering a stay on any further subsidies for proposed and future municipal waste to energy (WTE) projects. A fact finding survey conducted in Lucknow had revealed that the state’s dept on non conventional energy was compelled by some vested interests to pursue the project and it had also given a huge subsidy of 15 crores to the plant.
Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh
In yet another measure of inadequacy of Incineration technology, the 6 MW waste to energy plant run by Shriram Energy Systems at Vijayawada was stopped operations in 2007. The project was commissioned in December 2003. Residents around the area complained of dust and noxious smell from open dumping of garbage next to the plant. Shriram promised to take 225 tonnes per day of municipal solid waste from VMC and process it to produce fuel grade pellets to power the plant along with 25-30 percent feed stock- rice husk and wood chips. Contrarily, the plant at Vijayawada was in fact found to be using 52 percent of rice husk and wood chips according to a report of two members of the 2005 Supreme Court committee studying the performance of waste to energy plants, while the upper permissible limit set by MNRE was 30%. Recently before closure of the plant it was found running entirely on rice husk. The plant had problem in drying the waste to produce fuel pellets during monsoon. The plant was highly irregular in its functioning and found to be closed for long durations.
In Pune, the municipal corporation themselves have admitted that both the processing plants have failed to manage 1600 MT of daily waste generated. The Hanjer processing plant set up to process 1,000 tonne garbage daily was defunct and it was confirmed by its own city officials that the plant was hardly processing 250 tonne garbage every day. Despite being paid Rs 300 per tonne as tipping fee for mixed garbage, the company was not in a position to increase its capacity. In an another failed experiment of Waste to Energy plant in Pune run by Rochem, which had promised to process 700 tonne garbage, was processing less than half (300 tonne) because of technical problems . An RTI report analysis by a local NGO- Nagrik Chetna Manch confirms that there is nil possibility of generation of electricity at Rochem’s Pune plant as the technology is faulty and in fact relies on additional supply of coal for its own operation. It is found that out of the average 235 MT of MSW that Pune Municipal Corporation gives to Rochem, about 94.5 MT MSW is illegally dumped in the premises causing atmospheric and ground water pollution and generation of foul odour, which has led to community protest.
All the above examples establishes that incineration is not an option to deal with municipal garbage due to important factors such as a) impacts on public health due to toxic emissions, b) inappropriate technology design unable to handle waste with high organic content, c) high cost involved in monitoring and maintenance mechanism, d) threat to the livelihood of informal recycling workers and e) most crucially, because Waste to energy plants undermine environmentally sound practices and policies like recycling, waste diversion and minimization.
Given this scenario, it is clear that waste to energy plants are neither renewable nor green, it is actually creating the opposite of the intended effect: i.e. more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the short term, less sustainability and less incentive to green economy. It ends up costing taxpayers to contaminate their own air, land and water. It also destroys local jobs that could be created to recover wasted materials. Adding Waste to Energy under “Renewable or Green Energy” and subsidizing it to burn the waste that could be otherwise recycled or composted, contradicts the very spirit of the zero waste principles and energy conservation.
The promotion of waste to energy through amendments in Electricity Bill, 2014 is not an isolated incident. It is a way to synergise emphasis on incineration of waste in Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan & SMART Cities Mission. To read more about it, you can click here…