India’s biggest power utility is planning to invest US$10 billion in five gigawatts of coal-fired electrical generation over the next half-decade, Reuters reports, marking a pause in what was shaping up as a decisive turn away from the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world’s second-most populous nation.
Investor-owned NTPC has not announced its intention publically, the news agency writes, “because it has not yet received government approval” for its proposed investments. However, “if approved, the plan could set back efforts by the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter to control carbon output, and raise questions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vow to stand by commitments under the Paris climate accord.”
India had recently emerged as a poster-nation for large-scale conversion from coal to renewable energy. With solar power falling below coal in cost, the country cancelled nearly 14 gigawatts of planned additional coal generation in May. And last month, Coal India, the national coal company, announced plans to shut 37 unprofitable mines by March, 2018.
As well, Reuters observes, “several coal-fired stations built in the last power boom a decade ago are standing idle” across the nation, after demand failed to increase at forecast rates. India’s Central Electricity Authority has determined that the country’s existing coal fleet, along with plants now under construction, will meet expected demand for at least another decade. Thereafter, the authority forecasts, solar and wind will provide additional capacity.
NTPC apparently does not share that outlook. “I don’t think [the current] electricity surplus will be there for a long time,” one unnamed company executive told Reuters. “We should not fool ourselves.” A quarter of India’s 1.3 billion people have yet to be connected to power, and per capita consumption is also expected to climb by a third by 2040—trends the company says will revive demand sooner than regulators expect. It plans to build two plants, each generating 660 megawatts of power, at each of Singrauli, in central India, and Talcher in the east.
Their construction “would aggravate health impacts even further” in the two regions, said Sunil Dahiya, an energy activist with Greenpeace in New Delhi.