Tuesday, January 28, 2014


India has a problem.  Almost four hundred million of its populations are without access to electricity and the existing supply falls ten percent short during peak hours.

India sits on one of the world's largest deposits of coal, yet it can't get it out of the ground quickly enough or transport it fast enough to meet its own demand.

India's answer to this is simple - expand coal production by whatever means are necessary.

Now, I am not here to announce that I have the answer to India's energy problems, but I know one thing and that is simple - coal it is not.  This direction leads to the deaths of untold numbers of Indian citizens directly, not to mention the rest of the planet.

This sort of problem the multitude take seriously.

Enter the contradiction.  Compass points out, 

The problem is expanding mining operations is easier said than done. You see if you layered maps of mineral resources, tribal populations, and endangered wildlife on top of each other you’d see a scary picture. That's because what's left of India's cheapest coal reserves lies in the exact same places as the country's remaining forests which also happen to be home to the country's remaining tiger populations and large numbers of tribal populations. It's this combustible mix that has fueled 'naxal' insurgencies in many parts of the country's coal belt. 

What that means is that India's drive to expand coal supplies (as well as build new power plants) runs face first into fierce local resistance. These local communities have held back the goliath of coal expansion with little more than a slingshot and a rock.  That heroism, aided by the beauracratic inefficiency of Coal India and a decrepit transportation infrastructure, has caused stagnating production, and heightened project delay.

The first study of the health impact of India's dash for coal, conducted by the World Bank says India's coal plants already cost hospitals up to 4.6 billion dollars per year.  Greenpeace says upwards of 120,000 premature deaths are occurring and maybe 20 million new cases of asthma each year.  Coal based plants have also led to an alarming increase in heart attacks.  Vinuta Gopal of Greenpeace told the Guardian last year: 

"The ongoing coal expansion is irrational and dangerous. Coal mining is destroying India's forests, tribal communities and endangered species, and now we know the pollution it emits when burned is killing thousands. Coal has failed to deliver energy security. We need a moratorium on new coal plants and ambitious policy incentives to unlock the huge potential India has in efficiency measures, wind and solar."

Fortunately not everone agrees that coal is the answer to India's problems.

  Dr EAS Sarma (Former Union Power Secretary) and  Shankar Sharma (Power Policy Analyst) wrote last year, 

An oft repeated statement in recent years is that the continued reliance on coal power is essential to lift the poor people in India from the clutches of poverty. The government and many people in the position of influence have been repeating this statement so often that it seems to be attaining the status of “Goebbels’s Truth”...

When the harsh realities of coal power in the true context of global warming and the overall welfare of our communities are objectively reviewed, the hypocrisy behind such statements/reports will become obvious.... 

Whereas the successive governments continue to say that coal capacity addition is necessary to provide electricity to all, and through it to eliminate poverty in our country the reality as seen since independence is vastly different. Whereas the total installed power capacity in the country has increased from about 1,000 MW in 1947 to about 212,000 MW in 2013, and the national per capita electricity has increased from less than 100 kWh in 1947to about 800 kWh in 2013, about 300 Million people in the country have no access to electricity. Despite such massive growth in coal dominated electricity grid about 75 Million families have no electricity at all in 2013 as against the Planning Commission’s target of 30 kWh of electricity per family per month as life line energy by 2012.

The reasons given by the official agencies for not being able supply electricity supply to all is that it is not economical to extend the grid power to all villages. Since coal power is economical only in large size grid connected mode, the hollowness of the claim that coal power is needed to electrify all houses becomes clear. A large number of people are living without electricity even in the close vicinity of coal power plants.

A conveniently hidden fact about coal power is the inherent gross inefficiency associated with the coal power. The losses involved in coal burning, steam making, generating, transmitting and distributing electricity is so high that only about 20% of the coal energy reaches the end consumer in the form of electricity even with the best technologies....

India is endowed with a vast potential in renewable energy sources.... 

We, in India, need to take a much more holistic view of the energy needs of the people vis-√†-vis all-round welfare of communities. We should build new clean energy sources regardless of what the West does because it’s the cheapest, cleanest, and best solution for our people. It’s time our ‘leaders’ focused on India’s clean energy future and dropped support for a corrupt dirty coal sector.

The same goes for the rest of the world.

I am not here to point fingers.  The developed countries have already contributed enormously to global climate change and they aren't stopping.

For example just last week we could read at Triple Pundit:

The Australian government, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, seems committed to exacerbating its nation’s climate woes. Even as his Environmental Minister approved a vast coal mine that will produce 40 million tons of CO2-emitting coal per year, Abbott is calling Australia’s strong renewable energy sector into question.

He’s cutting funding for renewables, threatening to remove the 20 percent renewable energy standard and even falling back on the old and largely debunked criticism that wind power has negative impacts on human health.  Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council looked into the issue in 2010 and again in 2012. And now Abbott is calling for another review. Because, why not?

And just for good measure, he’s also dismantling Australia’s well-regarded plans for curbing carbon emissions and jettisoning the nation’s goals for carbon reductions.

Australia isn't alone with this crap either.    At the United Nations' Warsaw meeting, Japan announced that it would jettison its carbon reduction goals, blaming the post-Fukushima loss of nuclear power.  Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, continued his purge of Canadian government science and his pursuit of Alberta's oilsands, casting an image of Canada as OPEC's future perennial hockey champions.  In the United States Texas Republican Lamar Smith took the reins of the House Science Committee, where 17 of its 22 Republican members do not believe in man-made climate change.

And then there is the Polish government which managed to host a pro-coal conference and a climate change summit at the same time.

I haven't even mentioned China...or the USA.  Why bother.  One is adding more  now to the problem then anyone, and the other, well, it has done way more than its share to doom the planet already.

 Let me just leave you with this from the Union of Concerned Scientists, A typical-sized 500 megawatt coal-fired electricity plant in the United States puts out each year:

1. 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, and is the leading cause of global warming. There are no regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.
2. 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide (SOx) is the main cause of acid rain, which damages forests, lakes and buildings.
3. 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) is a major cause of smog, and also a cause of acid rain.
4. 500 tons of small particles. Small particulates are a health hazard, causing lung damage. Particulates smaller than 10 microns are not regulated, but may be soon.
5. 220 tons of hydrocarbons. Fossil fuels are made of hydrocarbons; when they don't burn completely, they are released into the air. They are a cause of smog.
6. 720 tons of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas and contributor to global warming.
7. 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber. A scrubber uses powdered limestone and water to remove pollution from the plant's exhaust. Instead of going into the air, the pollution goes into a landfill or into products like concrete and drywall. This ash and sludge consists of coal ash, limestone, and many pollutants, such as toxic metals like lead and mercury.
8. 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and many other toxic heavy metals. Mercury emissions from coal plants are suspected of contaminating lakes and rivers in northern and northeast states and Canada. In Wisconsin alone, more than 200 lakes and rivers are contaminated with mercury. Health officials warn against eating fish caught in these waters, since mercury can cause birth defects, brain damage and other ailments.
9. Trace elements of uranium. All but 16 of the 92 naturally occurring elements have been detected in coal, mostly as trace elements below 0.1 percent (1,000 parts per million, or ppm). A study by DOE's Oak Ridge National Lab found that radioactive emissions from coal combustion are greater than those from nuclear power production.
10. A 500 megawatt coal-fired electrical plant burns 1,430,000 tons of coal, uses 2.2 billion gallons of water and 146,000 tons of limestone a year.  

It is way past time to stop relying on mainstream environmental groups, governments, the UN, the World Bank and other international organizations, NGOs, and happy greens.  It is up to the multitudes in the North and the South, the East and the West to act with strength and to act NOW...or we can just chuck it in.  

The world is dying so that a few can profit.  Until we rid the Earth of the cancer of Capital, we will never, ever get a handle on all this.  You can talk renewables, wind, solar, and scrubbers until you are blue in the face.  It is Capital that is the ultimate problem. There is no easy fix which leaves a capitalist system in place which will save the people of India or the world.  Global capital is a mass murderer and should be treated as such.

But today's post returns us to India and now.  It comes from  The Ecologist.

India's coal inferno

Sarah Stirk

India's planned power expansion depends overwhelmingly on coal, with over a hundred huge new generation units planned by 2030. Sarah Stirk reports on the nightmare the dash for coal is bringing to once peaceful rural communities.

The smell, a mix of human and animal excrement, combined with acrid industrial pollution makes the air gritty, stinging eyes and making breathing a struggle.

Champa's eyes are surrounded by dark circles and her face is thin and drawn. It began with a fever, pain in her limbs, and she was then diagnosed with tuberculosis.
"I was diagnosed with TB two years ago now. I have been on medication but I am not getting any better. I have difficulty breathing and even talking is hard. It has been like this for five or six years - ever since the plant started, our problems have started too."
Champa is not alone. She is one of millions of people in India whose health and lives are being blighted by the country's surge in coal-based power generation.
170 gigawatts of new coal generation planned by 2022
India ranks third in the world in the production of carbon dioxide and is burning more coal than ever before, with 66% of power generated by coal-fired thermal power plants.
Future plans are for massive expansion, with India's 12th five-year plan ending 2017 adding 76GW of coal-fired power capacity. The 13th five-year plan, ending in 2022, aims to add another 93GW.
This is a colossal programme - equivalent to more than three times the UK's entire peak power demand. It represents a response to an increasing population, a growing middle class hungry for modernity - and an energy policy that holds coal power as integral to the development of the country's economy.
100,000 premature deaths a year
But as India pursues its aggressive path of coal-powered industrialisation, its leaders are showing themselves willing to sacrifice millions of people and huge swathes of the country to a dark and uncertain future.
According to the The Lancet's Global Burden of Diseases Study outdoor air pollution - arising from power stations, other industry, transport, and domestic fuel burning for heat and cooking - is already among the top ten causes of death in India.
And while air quality and other environmental regulations do exist in India, they are rarely enforced. Sarath Guttikunda, chemical engineer and director at Urban Emissions New Delhi, believes them to be far weaker than in other countries:
"In India we do have ambient air quality standards ... But what we have found is that these regulations lag behind the numbers that we have seen in Europe, United States and even in China, and there is a lot of room for improvement."
In the first ever report focussing on the health impacts of the coal industry in India, scientists estimate that in 2011-2012, air pollution from coal-fired power plants alone was responsible for 80,000-115,000 premature deaths.
Diseases caused by the pollution include 20.9 million asthma attacks, bronchitis and other severe respiratory conditions, and cardiovascular disease. These health impacts are estimated to cost India $3.3 billion to $4.6 billion per year in medical expenses and lost work days.
India's 'energy capital' - Singrauli
Singrauli, known as the "energy capital" of the country, is the industrial hub of north-central India. Straddling Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, it produces 10% of the country's coal-fired power.
Singrauli was once covered in forest and rich agricultural land, but the region's coal lies underneath these forests, and they are being cleared at an alarming rate. Endangered species are pushed further towards extinction - and tribal communities are swept aside to make way for the energy juggernaut.
Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner for Greenpeace India has worked in the area for over three years. "There are nine thermal power plants and eleven operational mines, and this is concentrated in one district. That's the Singrauli region, and it's because of this that you'll find the large number of cases of asthma, of tuberculosis, of skin diseases, of cancer."
Toxic dustbowls
The landscape is one of industrial devastation and critical levels of pollution, recently rated the third most polluted industrial cluster in the country by the comprehensive environmental pollution index. Air, water and soil have all been affected.
The open cast mines that scar the landscape resemble vast craters, streaked black with coal and trimmed green at the edges with what is left of the rapidly dwindling forest. Huge dump trucks and cranes appear miniature in the distance, barely visible through the poisonous haze.
Milky white stagnant ash ponds hold the by-product of the industry, fly ash. Black spiky stalks of dead foliage poke out of the sludge, testament to its toxicity.
Experts warn of acute health problems related to coal and the ash that it produces, conaining toxic heavy metals including mercury, arsenic, lead, nickel, barium and even radioactive substances such as uranium or thorium. 
Man-made mountains of mining wastes, excavated and dumped, gradually bury entire villages. Coal-filled train bunkers and conveyor belts, some as long as 25km, snake from the mines to thermal power plants.
The towering stacks dominate the skyline, looming over settlements and pumping out smoke which can spread its pollution as far as 400 km away, choking communities below. The air is permanently clouded, limiting visibility. The smell and taste of coal dominate the senses.
Towering infernos
Chilika Dand, in the Sonebhadra district of Singrauli, Uttar Pradesh, is one of the most critically affected communities. The village of around 12,000 people is surrounded by multiple power plant stacks emitting putrid smoke, and overlooked by a fully operational open-cast mine just 50 meters away.
There is a constant industrial hum of engines revving and the scrape of metal on stone. Twice daily explosive blasts, and the subsequent patter and thud of debris, are more reminiscent of the sounds of war than of development. Few of the concrete rehabilitation blocks escape cracked walls due to tremors from the blasts.
A railway line and road are both dedicated to carrying coal. Villagers claim that at night, filters are removed from the stacks, and ash falls and settles on rooftops like toxic snow. Many of them have been moved, often forcibly, numerous times to make way for the industry that has destroyed their lives.
Manonit G Ravi, an activist and resident of Chilika Dand shouts over the noise of engines to make himself heard: "The entire village vibrates with the blasts. Sometimes they are so big and loud, people run out of their houses thinking there might be an earthquake."
Sanitation is desperate, as the allocated plots leave little room for toilets. In summer, asphyxiating dust fills the air, and in winter and rainy seasons, there is a constant septic sludge underfoot. The smell, a mix of human and animal excrement, combined with acrid industrial pollution makes the air gritty, stinging eyes and making breathing a struggle.
Disease is rife
Residents of Chilika Dand say that illness and disease is rife in the community, with cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, vitiligo (the blanching of skin through pigment loss), hair loss and psychosis widespread.
These disease are all linked to contaminated water, coal ash, particles in the air, and the abnormally high levels of mercury present in the environment. Coal fired power stations are one of the main ways that mercury is released into the environment.
The World Health Organization states that even minimal exposure to mercury may cause health problems, including neurological damage to unborn fetuses and children. The heavy metal is considered "one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern." 
Siraj Un Nissa, a resident of Chilika Dand and mother of eight has Vitiligo. Her hands, arms and mouth are blanched, and her whole body is patchy where pigment has been lost.
"I have been sick for the past eight years ... The dust is making it hard for us to live here. No electricity. We get it for one hour and it's gone. We don't have a proper house to live in, just a makeshift shelter. We don't have anything. No one cares about the poor."
Buried under mine waste
Jharia, in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, has almost disappeared. The remote village is being buried under waste from a nearby mine opened by Reliance in 2006.
A thin sliver of green and around 30% of the population is all that remains of this forest-dwelling community of Harijan people, squashed against a sheer, slowly encroaching, man-made cliff of debris.
Children sit quietly on top of huge boulders, the result of an avalanche, and push bikes loaded up with coal, which they have collected and bagged up for sale, one of the few ways they manage to survive.
Visibility is very limited through the dust-filled air, and the sound of a man chopping wood is intermittently drowned out as dump trucks rumble past, kicking up dust and adding to the mountainous pile of rock, where the village used to be.
It never used to be like this
Bandhu Saket, resident of Jharia explains how their health has been affected by the mine:"My youngest grandson gets so unwell, his teeth start chattering and his eyes enlarge, it feels like he will not get better ...
"It never used to be like this. Ever since the companies have come, since the vehicles have been driving back and forth, since the blasting has started, illness and disease have been spreading.
"They dump things in all directions and when it is summertime, with all the dust, one cannot see anything so how can you expect anything else but to get sick!"
Bandhu explains that they used to have a well that provided drinking water to the village, but the company filled it in, and they are now forced to drink what they can. "Whatever we find in the drains or rainwater collected, that is what we drink."
Manbasia, also from Jharia, is a mother of three. Supporting herself against a huge rock from the mine, she struggles to control the emotion in her voice, and speaks shakily of illness and disease in what is left of her community.
"I can't see very well, my chest hurts, my feet don't allow me to sit down or stand up ... We have no one here to help or support us. If someone is dying, there is no one to look after them or save them. Who are we meant to turn to?"
Huge increases in mortality
Dr R. B. Singh has worked in the area for over 20 years, treating the local population in their homes, both in the small private practice that adjoins his home, and the Singrauli District Hospital next door.
A constant stream of patients waits outside his practice, all needing attention and treatment.
There has been a huge increase in death, sickness and disease "since the time the new industries have come here and the coal mine belt has progressed", he insists.
"The patients we see in our new Out Patients Department present themselves with skin diseases and lung diseases, bronchitis, asthma and silicosis", he explains. "And because of the contaminated drinking water, amebiasis and other abdominal ailments have increased."
"I have come across bone cancer, mouth cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer", he adds."All these are common here." The bone cancers mostly occur in children, mouth cancers in adults."
It's a hospital - but where's the medical equipment?
The District Hospital next door is in desperate need of facilities. A dilapidated shell with dark corridors, the maternity ward is splattered with blood and rainwater drips through cracks in the ceiling. A solitary brand new unit for premature babies looks oddly out of place.
There is no other medical equipment to be seen and a general sense of confusion and bewilderment prevails. Lights flicker on and off as the electricity supply fades in and out.
Wards are crowded but quiet, with beds full, people lying on the floor and an unmistakable shortage of staff. "We have a problem with a lack of doctors as most of them qualify and go abroad. They do not want to work in these small places", says Dr Singh.
Hearts and lungs
Sarath Guttikunda, Director at Urban Emissions, New Delhi is a chemical engineer and air pollution expert. "When you are focusing on outdoor air pollution two things are really important - one is your lungs, and other is your heart."
"Among the respiratory problems, the main one is asthma. People who are already suffering from asthma are obviously going to get affected even more, and children and older generation people - they are the ones that we see are getting affected the most."
Ranjeet Singh, a primary school teacher in the area, says that sickness is rife in his pupils, with coughing and sneezing a constant sound in the classroom. Absenteeism is common due to ill health, and parents are deeply worried about their children.
"When I go to teach, there are 216 children. Out of those, if only 100 or 150 of them turn up, it makes us wonder why the children haven't turned up.
"When we enquire, the child's guardian tells us that their child has been unwell or that because we had to go to the hospital, they didn't make it to school, or that for the past 15 days she's been sick and lying in bed ... These kind of problems come up a lot."
A People betrayed
 All over Singrauli, locals speak of sickness, their land and livelihoods being taken away, and promises of re-housing, education, employment and healthcare from the industry that haven't materialized.
Rangeet Gupta is a local activist and youth worker living and working in the area. He says that after "persistent reminding", the industry has not delivered the services that it promised.
The resultis that proper healthcare, among other things, is only available to people who can afford it, or those who work for the industry.
"In this area of ours, there isn't even a decent hospital ... for the displaced community. They have nothing at all, no schools, no doctors, no hospital, no roads, not even an arrangement for hygiene and sanitation. They have just been abandoned."
Champa, like so many others, has experienced this first-hand, buying her own medicine when she has the money to do so, and going without treatment when she can't afford it.
"We receive no help from the people at the plant at all. Since the health problems started because of the plant, we have not been given so much as a single tablet by them or the government."
The future looks even worse
As the health epidemic gets more critical, scientists, medical professionals and campaigners all predict that if India pushes forward with the planned expansion, and regulations remain unenforced, the consequences to human life will be even more devastating.
According to Sarath Guttikunda, pollution from the power plants operating in the area has caused close to 100,000 premature deaths. "And if we are going to triple the number of power plants and don't do anything about the regulations, we will at least triple this number."
Doctor Singh warns that the atmosphere in Singrauli will be polluted "to such a degree that it will not be viable to live here anymore." Champa, Manbasia and their families, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, face a future of poverty, sickness and death with no means of escape.
"Now, with the dust and smoke bellowing, there are people getting sick", says Manbasia."And if you don't have the money, like us, what do we do? Kill ourselves?"

1 comment:

Goyal Energy said...

It is possibly very hard to imagine how different our world was 600 to 300 Million years ago. Back in the period that coal is formed from was dominated by plant live and very little animal life. The other factors were higher oxygen content in the atmosphere along with a much moister environment. Based on these factors being in place it is not that hard to visualize lush and plentiful plant growth. So in some areas large accumulations of plant material would accumulate on the ground and create bogs were the material was covered by water or other plant material and did not completely break down. With geological changes other materials were deposited on top of these bogs and with depth and pressure turned to rock. The pressure dries the material, compressed it and eventually turned it to Coal, a flammable rock. This way coal is formed & tends to be in veins and stratified. Various conditions created various qualities of coal deposits that are presently mined for energy.

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