Concerned Environmentalists

air pollution from coal fired power stationsEnvironmentalists are concerned today of the lost opportunity at Sampur, where little is being done to promote renewable, as the Sampur plant of 500 MW capacity will be added to the total state-owned capacity after the late 2017 completion of the Sampur Power Station which will run on coal, with provisions to add a further 500 MW in the future. The government has said that no more coal-fired power stations will be commissioned after Sampur, as the plan is to introduce nuclear power after 2030, thereby making Sampur and Norocholai (Lakvijaya) as the only two coal power stations in the country. The Lakvijaya plant, uses three steam turbines each capable of producing 300 MW, where coal is used is imported from Indonesia since it is cheap and good quality. The coal to be used in Sampur will be from India is cheaper compared with Indonesia, but contains more sulfur. If the plan to construct a coal power plant at Sampur goes ahead as scheduled, with it the opportunities for reducing the country’s emissions and safeguarding the health of the people, compliance with climate change concerns and making available a clean source of energy to people will be lost.

The people living near the power plant site have voiced their protest stating the surrounding environment will get effected. Furthermore most of the resources needed for development in the country come from its environment. Thus it is imperative that these resources are conserved and enhanced to sustain development. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was developed in the 1970s to predict the environmental consequences of human development activities, to plan appropriate measures to eliminate or reduce adverse effects and to augment positive effects. Unfortunately, it appears the EIA is seen by the Sampur project promoters as a constraint to development and have said that any future thermal power stations will be natural gas-run, to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. It implies that our decision makers are aware of the need to depose coal for natural gas to bring benefits that could improve the quality of life of people in the country, including a healthy life free of respiratory diseases particularly among its children. It is therefore desirable, even at this late stage, for the government to renegotiate the Sampur project with India converting it to operate on LNG and meet its obligation to provide people in the country with a clean and a healthy environment.

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In the past the country has seen many development projects implemented without resolving all the environmental problems. A case in point is the Kankesanthurai Cement factory, producing KKS cement a pioneer cement factory inaugurated in 1950.  KKS factory with a production capacity of 760,000 tons per year gave direct and indirect employment to thousands of people. The factory described once as the national treasure was closed down in 1990 with the civil war; the kiln has been non-operational for more than two decades.   Today the factory stands as a mute witness to recent history, having lost its position as a major job provider in the country. But a less known fact and never quantified was the damage to the environment and the people in the surrounding area caused over the years by the factory. This was understandable for our country was then underdeveloped and EIA was not in use. Building a chest hospital at nearby Tellipalai was the result of damaged caused to the health of the people by the fine dust emitted by the factory. A large extend of productive land bordering the factory left unusable due to years of mining of limestone a raw material used in the production of cement. The loss in crop production to the neighbouring subsistence farmers was never studied.

About the same period there was a much larger damage done to the environment of the whole world by emission of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases by thousands of coal fired power plants in the developed countries around the world. These coal-fired power plants release over 85% of total global carbon dioxide emissions, a prime contributor to global warming. Burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. Fossil fuel phase out is the proposed energy transition beyond fossil fuels through multiple means, including transport electrification, decommissioning of operating fossil fuel-fired power plants and prevention of the construction of new fossil-fuel-fired power stations. As the result these developed countries are involved in shifting away from fossil fuels and moving to the many forms of renewable energy.

Australia has proposed to phase out coal power stations and want to end all coal mining and coal industry subsidies. USA and most advanced economies in Europe including the UK to curb carbon emissions has plans to close down coal plants, as they consider it is not fit for the 21st century. UK aims to close its coal-fired power plants by 2025, becoming the first major economy to put a date on shutting coal plants. The EU has long claimed leadership on tackling climate change. Among the European coal-consuming nations like Germany, Poland, UK, Greece, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy the coal consumption has dropped the pattern was evident across all major European coal markets.

From 2016 the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) will result in even more stringent emissions-limits. Older thermal plants will have to meet tighter environmental standards by 2023. A decade from now, the EU will rely less on coal for electricity. With the Netherlands on track to miss its climate goals for 2020, the Dutch government is coming under pressure to order the closure of the nation’s coal plants. Two-thirds of the country’s 17 million population lives below sea level and would be vulnerable to rising sea levels in a warming world.

All this appears that the emissions are shifting elsewhere, with countries like Sri Lanka joining it, but global warming is a global problem. China has currently no plans to phase out coal burning power stations in China, in fact, it’s quite the reverse. China’s exceedingly high energy demand has pushed the demand for relatively cheap coal-fired power. India is the third largest consumer of coal in the world and is planning to stop importing thermal coal by 2018. New Zealand government has introduced a 10-year freeze on new fossil fuel thermal power generation. South Africa’s power sector is currently the 8th highest global emitter of CO2. Around 77% of South Africa’s energy demand is directly met by coal, and when current projects come online, this ratio will increase in the near term. There are no plans to phase out coal-fired power plants in South Africa, and indeed, the country is investing in building massive amounts of new coal-fired capacity to meet power demands, as well as modernizing the existing coal-fired plants to meet environmental requirements. So in this global play field our nation is set to join the league that will contribute to the global warming at the expense of the nation’s health. It is therefore not a surprise anyone to see concerned environmentalists.