• Govt plans to boost setting up of biomass power plants

    There is a renewed interest in biomass power plants, which can not only generate electricity but also help dispose of — in a carbon-neutral manner — agriculture waste, burning of which in Punjab and Haryana is partly blamed for the alarming levels of pollution Delhi is experiencing.

    Minister of New and Renewable Energy Piyush Goyal held a meeting of top officials on Monday to consider increasing incentives to boost this segment. “We are thinking of a scheme to encourage setting up of biomass plants using agricultural waste, but I cannot say anything more at the moment,” said Santosh Vaidya, joint secretary at the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), told ET.

    The government already provides financial assistance of Rs 20 lakh per MW for setting up biomass power plants, and Rs 15 lakh per MW for co-generation projects by sugar mills (using sugarcane waste left over after juice extraction). Such plants cost around Rs 4.5-6 crore per MW, while generation expense is around Rs 3.25-4.00 per kwH.

    They are also entitled to concessional import and excise duties while acquiring equipment, as well as a tax holiday for 10 years.

    But unlike sun and wind energy, this segment has been languishing in India. At the end of 2015-16, the country’s total biomass power installed capacity (along with co-generation units) was 4831.33 MW, with another 1150 MW under construction.

    Capacity addition has in fact slowed in the past three years, from 465.6 MW in 2012-13 to 412.5 MW in 2013-14, 405 MW in 2014-15 and 400 MW in 2015-16. Barring Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, no state added any biomass power or co-generation capacity in the last fiscal year. Rather, leading players like Orient Green Power have been trying hard to sell off their biomass power assets, as they are not profitable.

    Punjab has a biomass power and co-generation installed capacity of 155.5 MW, of which around 62.5 MW are in operation.

    In Haryana, the capacity is 45.3 MW. “The Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has been urging the Punjab and Haryana governments to set up biomass power plants since 2008 as one of the solutions to Delhi’s pollution crisis,” said Polash Mukerjee, researcher at the Centre for Science and Environment.

    “A target of 600 MW of installed capacity was set for Punjab years ago, but without any timeline. It has since been revised to 500 MW by 2020.”

    Six more biomass power plants are under construction in Punjab which on completion will raise effective the capacity to 110 MW from 62.5 MW. “But even after these are completed, they will use up only around 1 million tonne of agricultural waste, which is just 5% of the 20 million tonne Punjab produces,” said Mukerjee. Darius Leonard Womens Jersey

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