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MoEF&CC slows down wheels in motion for biomass co-firing in coal-based thermal power plants – EQ Mag

MoEF&CC slows down wheels in motion for biomass co-firing in coal-based thermal power plants – EQ Mag


Less than 1% coal replaced by biomass co-firing in Delhi-NCR, intense demand and supply gap, finds study by CSE

A February 2023 notification by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has given coal-based thermal power plants (TPP) more wriggle room to delay meeting directives on burning agro-residue for co-firing.

The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Captal Region and Adjoining Areas and the Union Ministry of Power (MoP) mandated the use of agriculture residues along with coal in these plants in September and October 2021, repectively.

Biomass pellets are a densified form of farm stubble that are processed for combustion in the TPP boilers along with coal for power generation. The pellets were introduced to overcome pollution caused by farm-stubble burning around Delhi-NCR, thereby creating a market for the unused residue.

MoEF&CC’s draft notification on February 16, 2023 reiterated biomass use for co-firing as earlier mandated. The draft applies to all the coal-based power plants under the jurisdiction of CAQM.

The notification proposed the replacement of five per cent of coal burnt in TPPS with agricultural residue for electricity generation. It has also introduced penalties to be paid by the power plants for the failure to comply with the rules.

But after almost one and a half years of the binding targets set by the Ministry of Power, the new draft notification by the Environment Ministry has pushed the deadlines for compliance by two years and limited the percentage of co-firing to five per cent for power plants within 300 kilometres of Delhi-NCR.

Directions by different authorities on biomass co-firing

Ministry of Power Commission for Air Quality Management Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change 


Revised Policy for biomass utilisation for power generation through co-firing in coal based power plants Ex-situ paddy straw management through utilisation in coal based thermal power plants

Agro residue utilisation by thermal power plants rules, 2023

Date October 8, 2021 September 17, 2021 February 16, 2023
Applicability All captive and non-captive coal-fired thermal power plants Thermal power plants situated upto a radius of 300 km of Delhi All power plants under the jurisdiction of CAQM


5-10 per cent 5-10 per cent 5 per cent
Deadline After one year of issue of revised guidelines

Compliance year- 2024-2025
Provision for


Section 14 of CAQM Act- The non-adherence to the CAQM direction on biomass co-firing will be considered as an offense ‘punishable with imprisonment’ for a term that may extend upto 5 years or with fine upto 1 crore or both. For year 2024-2025: Rs. 0.01 to 0.03 per unit of electricity generated
For year 2025-2026: Rs. 0.01 to 0.05 per unit of electricity generated

Source: CSE compilation (2023)

Status of biomass co-firing in Delhi-NCR

New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) recently conducted a study to find out the status of co-firing in 11 coal-based thermal power plants in Delhi-NCR. The plants have hardly made any progress in complying with the CAQM orders, the study found.

Cumulatively not even one per cent of the coal consumed every year has been replaced with agro-residue in these 11 power plants through December 2022. There is a reluctance to adhere to the policy by Delhi-NCR power plants, the analysis found. The biomass is being co-fired only intermittently in these plants.

Power plants tend to shift the onus of the inability of continuous co-firing in their units on weak supply chain management for agro-residue, the CSE survey showed. The power plants have issued short- and long-term tenders for the procurement of biomass pellets.

However, government records show that through December 2022, 73 per cent of the tenders placed for 12 million tonnes of biomass pellets are yet to be awarded.

The power plants under the ownership of the Haryana government — Rajiv Gandhi TPP, Yamuna Nagar TPP, and Panipat TPP — have not awarded either short- or long-term tenders. Mahatma Gandhi TPP, Dadri TPP and Indira Gandhi TPP are the only coal-based power plants in Delhi-NCR that have successfully placed long-term orders.

The tenders issued for biomass pellets in five of the 11 plants — Panipat TPP, Mahatma Gandhi TPP, Nabha TPP, Ropar TPP, and Guru Hargobind TPP — are of much lower quantity than required for 5 per cent coal replacement, the study revealed. This is based on coal consumed for the ‘actual’ electricity generation in April 2021–March 2022.

The Indira Gandhi TPP in Jhajjar, Haryana, had proposed inviting manufacturers to set up a biomass pellet manufacturing unit on its premises. The facility has not been set up to date.

There is an intense demand and supply gap — the cumulative capacity of pellet manufacturers in Delhi-NCR is approximately 2,500 tonnes per day. In contrast, the pellet demand is almost twice the available manufacturing capacity.

CSE questioned the vendors for biomass pellets as well. Vendors find selling biomass or agricultural residue to industries more lucrative and less tedious, the study revealed. They claim the tenders issued by the power plants are not being awarded on purpose and the process is being delayed unnecessarily.

Ambiguity in regulations

The co-firing mandate was released in October 2021, but the State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERC) only recently clarified their position on passing through the cost of complying with this mandate, stated the CSE study.

Some plants, like Panipat TPP and Rajiv Gandhi TPP, also attempted to get an exemption from complying with the policy on co-firing biomass by appealing to Haryana’s Electricity Regulatory Commission (ERC). However, Haryana ERC found the reasons by the plants to be baseless and the request was denied.

Though the status of ‘passing-through’ the cost of biomass pellets — that is twice the cost of domestic coal — by the ERCs is evident in the case of central plants and Punjab and Haryana, CSE could not trace any orders or other documents that clarify the position of Uttar Pradesh ERC on the same.

MoEF&CC notification slows the process

CSE has been raising the issue of the slow uptake of biomass co-firing by engaging with government officials as well as in public discourse.

“The attention being brought by CSE to the issue has probably pushed authorities to come up with the latest draft notification, where the deadline for compliance with the biomass co-firing has been pushed to 2024-2025 from September 2022”, said Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, CSE.

“Our study shows that the power plants have been apprehensive of co-firing biomass and have tried to digress attention by shifting the onus on supply-chain,” he added.

NTPC Dadri Thermal Power Plant in 2017 demonstrated that co-firing at 10 per cent in power plants is feasible without any major retrofitting in the plant infrastructure. Recently, Durgapur steel TPP of Damodar Valley Corporation, located in Bardhaman district, West Bengal, also successfully co-fired 7 per cent of biomass pellets.

There does not seem to be any scientific reasoning behind limiting the co-firing percentage to 5 per cent by MoEF&CC. The ministry’s intervention does not align with the previous directions on biomass co-firing.

CSE is concerned that as had happened with the emission norms for power plants where the deadlines have been extended thrice until now, the new notification by MoEF&CC will only serve to dilute the momentum for biomass co-firing even further.

Source: PTI
Anand Gupta Editor - EQ Int'l Media Network