Putting up a new coal-fired thermal power plant will cost ₹8.34 crore a MW, says a recent Power Ministry Report. The figure has been arrived at “as per the latest inputs provided by various manufacturers/developers,” the report says.

The Report on Optimal Generation Mix Capacity for 2029-30, released by the Ministry last week, also says that between now and 2030, India will build 26,900 MW of coal power plants. The bill for that, at ₹8.34 crore a MW, therefore, works out to ₹2.25-lakh crore, or ₹32,050 crore a year.

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Thanks essentially to coal-based plants, India’s annual carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector are set to rise from 910 million tons today (from 2,36,680 MW of coal power capacity today) to 1.11 billion tons in 2030. All this implies that coal power is both costly and harmful to the planet.

The per-MW cost has risen over the years, as shown in the table below:

Station Company Location month and year Capacity MW CERC approved cost (Rs cr/MW)
Indira Gandhi Aravali Power Co., Ltd Jhajjar, Haryana May 2015 3 x 500 4.88
Koderma dvc Jharkhand July 2015 1 x 500 4.65
Vallor NTPC Tamil Nadu Ennore, Tamil Nadu Feb 2016 2 x 500 5.33
Sri Damodaram Sanjeevaiah AP Power Development Co Andhra Pradesh March 2019 2 x 800 6.72®

(®as approved by APERC. Source: compiled from APERC tariff order)

The question is, what would be the per-kWhr cost of electricity from coal-fired plants? This number changes according to location, vintage and technology of the plant, type of coal used, and many other factors, but industry sources say that the cost of new coal power is never less than ₹6 a kWhr. At ₹8.34 crore a MW of capex, this is only set to increase.

In contrast, renewable energy plus storage works out cheaper. To take an example, Greenko has contracted to sell power from its upcoming pumped hydro storage at Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, for ₹4.23 a kWhr.

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Notably, 11,460 MW of pumped hydro storage capacity “has been concurred by the Central Electricity Authority,” says the Optimal Capacity Mix report. Today, 4,746 MW of pumped hydro storage capacity exists in the country, though many are not functional. Another 2,780 MW (including Greenko’s 1,680 MW) is under construction.

All this should leave coal out in the cold, but it is not to be. The report says that apart from the 26,900 MW under construction, the country would need a further 16,204 MW of coal-based power capacity by 2029-30.

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