Orissa's ill-advised energy plans

As the world recently celebrated World Water Day, the state of Orissa seriously needed a rethinking on its current path of growth and industrialisation. Just take the energy sector and the state is headed for a doomsday.

Going by the draft climate change action plan, we understand that Orissa will generate around 58,000 mw of electricity mostly from thermal power plants. If the state achieves this capacity, which will be almost 67 per cent of the total installed thermal power generation capacity of the country (at current levels), it will require a minimum of 2297 million cubic meter of water per year. This is enough to meet the domestic water requirement of close to 210 million people. It means about six states of the size of
Orissa’s domestic water requirement.

The rivers, surface water bodies and groundwater of the state will be under severe stress if this plan comes to realisation.  Orissa is boasting of two digit growth rate. To maintain that, more industrialisation, through all water-guzzling industries like steel, sponge iron, cement, thermal power and mining, will be pushed through with much vigour. That means the water demand of the state will surpass the supply much sooner than expected.

Greed

Water Initiatives Orissa (WIO), a network of people and institutions working on water and climate change issues in the state for over two decades now, has already warned how Orissa is going to be a ‘water stressed state’ from the current status of ‘water surplus state’ in a decade and half.

With such an aggressive energy production agenda, which will be mostly to cater to the needs of industrial consumers and the national power grid rather than the need of the people of the state, the state will be devoid of basic water security within about a decade, we warn.

According to the Draft Climate Change Action Plan and other government sources, the present average demand of 2,500 mw will increase to about 4,000 mw in just two-three years and the need for industrialisation will increase this still further. The Plan informs that, in the last 2-3 years, 27 MoUs have already been signed for generation of thermal power to the tune of 35,000 mw. This will go on to about 58,000 mw in seven-eight years.

What we need also to worry is that fact that this will generate a huge amount of Green House Gas emission from the state, whose mining and industrial belts have already become environment hot spots of concern for the entire world. Considering that 1,000 MW thermal power would generate 5 million tonnes of carbon, the government itself admits that Orissa’s energy sector will generate 9 billion tonnes of carbon over a 30 year period.

This is almost 30.7 per cent of the total GHG contribution of India (at current levels). So, the thermal power plant belts of the state will not only eat up all the local water sources but also generate heat and pollution to the extent that these areas will experience drastic reduction in agricultural production and hence will push thousands of villages to food insecurity.

We have already seen this in areas near the Vedanta company’s captive power plant in Jharsuguda. Jharsuguda is one of the places where there has been a rise of temperature by several degrees over the last one and half decade.

The situation is going to be worse. Similar path of growth and industrialisation being pursued by neighbouring Chhatisgarh will make Orissa further vulnerable. That state is planning about 56,000 mw of thermal power generation, most of it from areas bordering Orissa and using Mahanadi waters. 

The cumulative impact of thermal power generation in both these states will have multiple devastating impacts on the region’s ecology and will make us further water insecure.

It would therefore be wise for the state government to refrain from going for thermal power plant and invest more in green energy sources for which its estimated potential is about 3,10,000 mw. Or else, Orissa will soon face both acute water and food insecurity.

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