In an echo of the Chinese economy in the 1990s which depended on the exploitation of vast reserves of coal, India last year approved plans for 173 coal-fired power stations expected to provide an extra 80-100 gigawatts (GW) of electricity capacity within a few years. Many are expected to be fuelled by cheap coal imported from Australia, Indonesia and southern Africa, but applications to mine more than 600m tonnes of coal in India have been lodged.
The epicenter is Andhra Pradesh which, with a population is 84.7 million people, is now expanding its power production by 800%. Seven major and more than 30 smaller coal-powered power stations are planned, together intended to have a capacity of 56GW. In comparison, the UK’s installed electricity capacity is 75GW, but is expected to rise to 100GW in the next two decades. The largest plant, expected to be opened in two years, will be the $4bn Krishnapatnam power station, India’s first “ultra-mega” class of coal-fired power station. With 4GW, capacity it will be one of the world’s 25 biggest electricity sources, capable of powering 7m middle-class homes.
But, say activists, the Indian coal rush is being met by opposition, deaths and violent repression. Local protesters in Andhra Pradesh say that the power will mostly be exported to large cities, heavy industry and neighboring states, while local people are left with a legacy of pollution and toxic dumps.
“In many areas locals have protested against proposed coal plants,” Babu Rao, a former Indian government official turned anti-coal activist, said in a statement. “We have had several reports of the police reacting violently against protesters, intimidating villagers, as they struggle to protect their livelihood and habitats.”
But India’s breakneck economic development has also led to protests over power shortages in cities and industries unable to meet orders. Growing frustration at the government’s decision to block the expansion of coal mines in some of India’s most heavily polluted coalfield areas is thought to have contributed to the removal of Jairam Ramesh from the environment ministry.
Separately, international watchdog groups also complained that Indian coal companies were trying to earn hundreds of millions of carbon credits from the coal expansion. The Krishnapatnam plant has been registered with the UN clean development mechanism (CDM) and, if approved, could generate 3.5m carbon credits a year.
Eva Filzmoser, director of the CDM Watch group in Germany, wrote in a recent statement: “The registration of the coastal Andhra project brings the total number of coal projects registered to five, representing roughly 68m credits worth over €680m. With another 31 projects in the pipeline, potentially generating hundreds of millions of artificial credits worth billions of euros in windfall profits, there is an urgent need to suspend this methodology.”