A significant demographic comprising one school of thought is still in favour of fossil fuel driven growth and it is inevitable that any opposition to a Project of this magnitude will attract criticism, not least because the prospect of the addition of 4000 MW to our grid, spells an end to daily power cuts for most. However, a simple cost-benefit analysis will reveal that the social and environmental cost which comes with the project and the externalities borne by non-stakeholders, far surpasses the benefit of the power generated.
The global environment is at an extremely volatile period and the addition of more coal power plants, contrary to the notions of conventional policy makers, economists and affluent citizens, is the last thing that we need. The setting up of more and more Thermal Power Plants of this magnitude is by no means a panacea for our power shortage. To further compound this paradigm, India imports the majority of its coal and imported coal is 60 – 70% more expensive, according to Montek Ahluwahlia, Chariman of the India Planning Commission. A recent report produced by the World Institute of Sustainable Energy, highlights the risks of securitization of External Supplies. According to the report, a business-as-usual scenario of fossil fuel imports would lead to highly unsustainable levels of Current Account Deficit (CAD) – upwards of 31% of our GDP by 2030/31 and even reaching 39% in a worst case scenario (Download the full report here).
It is not widely known that for every 100 MW of electricity generated in India, more than 40 MW is lost because of inefficient transmission and distribution. In other words of the total 180,000 MW of electricity generated in India 72,000 MW (40 percent) is lost. That is equivalent to shutting off all power plants in the States of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka!
We have barely scratched the surface of our Renewable Energy potential. In India, our Renewable Energy potential is as follows: wind energy – 48,500 MW; small hydro power – 15,000 MW; biomass energy – 21,000 MW; and at least 4,000,000 MW from Solar Energy. But more important than harnessing renewable energy, is the phasing out of our current paradigm of wasteful consumption and inequitable distribution of electricity. Shopping malls and IT companies burn electricity throughout the day, while households and small commercial establishments have to suffer power shortages, not even taking into account the power scenario in the hinterland. A sea change in the rationalization of the use of electricity is the only feasible long term solution to our energy demand.
A joint initiative between members of Consumer Action Group, Community Environment Monitoring, Centre for Development Finance and renowned academics, is currently underway wherein an expert advisory group is planned to be formed to develop a long-term road map for the electricity of Tamil Nadu, without the use of Coal or Nuclear Energy. Discussions are in progress between the different groups as to what scenarios will be considered and how the plan will be formulated.