KARACHI: The Sindh Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has approved at least three projects of coal-fired power plants along the coast, ignoring reservations of experts over their construction, it emerged on Sunday.

According to sources, one of the approvals has been given on an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report that lacks details about ash disposal system or emergency plan that experts say is necessary for projects located in a disaster-prone area.

The project — one of Sindh’s mega coal-based power generation ventures — is being jointly developed by Sinohydro (Hong Kong) Holding Company Ltd and a Qatar-based investment firm at Port Qasim. Two 660-megawatt power generation units will be installed under the project whose total investment is estimated to be $1.95 billion.

Project’s EIA report lacks details of ash disposal system

At least 203 acres, including a large yet-to-be reclaimed piece of land, will be required for the installation of the proposed power plant.

According to the EIA report of the project, the estimated annual rate of coal consumption will be 4.6 tonnes and about 310,061 tonnes of fly ash and 54,871 tonnes of bottom ash will be produced annually.

The coal-fired power plant is stated to be constructed on the north-west edge of the Indus delta system, which is characterised by long and narrow creeks, mud flats and mangrove forest ecosystem.

During a public hearing of the project’s EIA report held on May 29, environmentalists had argued that the venture carried grave public health risks and would destroy marine ecology. They also questioned company officials’ logic of not making ash disposal system part of the report.

A few experts had alleged that incorrect information was provided in what they termed the hastily-prepared EIA report. They said it seemed that local fishermen, who were the prime stakeholders to be directly affected by the project, had not been consulted.

There was also concern that the report carried no information on an emergency plan and experts feared that the entire coal leakage would end up in the sea in rainy season.

The situation would be even more dangerous in case of a tsunami, they said.

The venture’s proposed land reclamation under which two million cubic metres of sand would be excavated from another place also attracted criticism at the public hearing and experts explained that extraction of huge sand from one site to fill up another location would have serious hydrological impact on the first site, causing a change in the groundwater recharge.

The other two projects that Sepa approved were power plants fuel conversion project of K-Electric and Fauji Fertilizer Bin Qasim Limited. Though much smaller in size, experts raised similar concerns at the public hearing on the EIA reports on these projects. Both the companies are converting their power plants currently being run on gas to coal. K-Electric project is related to production of 420MW whereas FFBL plans to generate 120MW primarily for fertilizer production.

The provincial department gave approval to all the projects within a month.

“The concerns expressed by experts should have compelled the Sindh government to resist the pressure coming from the federal government for the 1,320MW project and it should have sought a careful review of the venture, preferably by foreign experts,” said Ghulam Qadir Shah representing the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), while speaking to Dawn.

A research should have been done prior to the construction of coal-fired power plants to examine their cumulative impact on public health and coastal environment, he added.

Mr Shah criticised government plans for setting a series of coal-fired power plants in the country and said that there was a requirement for a strategic environmental study at the policy level in developed country to examine the short- and long-term effects of a certain policy that the government planned to adopt. However, there was no such legal requirement in Pakistan.

According to sources, neither the government sought project’s review nor it asked the company to prepare an EIA report on the ash disposal before seeking approval for the project. In fact, as official papers show, Sepa hasn’t even bound the company to submit the EIA report on the ash disposal system in a certain time.

Some of the conditions mentioned in the document of project’s approval are: the company shall comply with all environmental quality standards applicable to the project activities and in force during construction and operational phase of the project; an EIA for the ash disposal system will be developed and submitted to Sepa; the company will engage an independent team to monitor stack emissions, ambient air quality and wastewater and submit reports to Sepa.

According to sources, since Sepa lacks an effective post-EIA monitoring mechanism, there is little importance of the conditions the agency specifies in its approval document.

On land reclamation and uprooting of mangroves, the company has been asked to develop a plan for conservation and rehabilitation of mangroves in the PQA limits.

Interestingly, the conditions Sepa has imposed on K-Electric are tougher as compared to those on Sinohydro Limited. In addition to other requirements, the power utility has been asked to give jobs to locals and involve research organisations to study impact of various emissions and operation of the plant on public health and environment.

Sepa director general was not available for comments.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2014



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