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Government tells thermal power plants to reduce water usage
Thermal power plants are water guzzlers, consuming an average of 96,000 litres of water for every megawatt of power, and the government wants to cut this down as it contemplates the possibility of excessive dry summers and dwindling water levels in rivers in coming years.
The ministry of environment has asked all proposed thermal power plants to use at least 30% less water than the existing ones, and told operating plants to reduce their water usage by at least 10%.
Power plants draw water from rivers to cool equipment and contain fly ash, the burnt coal, and then discharged it back into the river.
"Water needs to be made available to be used by power plants in the first place. If rivers run dry, plants will have to switch off generation. Further with large number of thermal power plants being planned in clusters, the volume of water available in an area will start to compete with agriculture," said a senior power sector official who requested not to be named.
A Khurana, general secretary at Association of Power Producers, said, "The ministry's norms, which will have to be complied by December 2017, will require all plants to put up cooling towers that would reduce water consumption. However, there is a cost involved, which would increase power tariff."
According to Central Electricity Authority, thermal power plants are already facing difficulties due to non-availability of water, particularly in coal-bearing states like Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
Power sector officials said this year at NTPC's Farakka thermal power station all units except one had to be shut down due to unavailability of water from Bhagirathi river. Thermal power plants at Karnataka and Maharashtra also had to be shut to water availability. This problem is expected to aggravate when more sites would be required.
In states like Rajasthan, land is available in plenty but there is scarcity of water and naturally drinking and irrigation uses have got priority over industrial uses.