It is always important for everybody, be he or she an individual or a government policymaker, to keep in mind the adage, 'look before you leap'. Failure to do so very often leads to the wastage of both time and money. This has been true with development projects. Before preparing policies or taking up development projects, the government policymakers must examine the pros and cons and make proper feasibility studies.
As far as the power sector development is concerned, there have been some deviations, it seems. The policymakers at the state level are expected to take into consideration the past, present and future while designing their plans and programmes. But while preparing the power sector master plans of 2010 and 2016, the relevant policymakers had, deliberately or otherwise, overlooked many ground realities. And they are now trying to amend those mistakes, however, not without a cost. Though belated the move remains in the right direction.
That the use of fossil fuel, such as coal, risks polluting the environment is a widely known fact. Yet the government in the power sector master plans, formulated since 2005, laid greater emphasis on coal-fired power plants. The authorities tried to move away from the use of coal in the 2016 master plan, yet the dependence was overwhelming. Now, they have a plan to generate 10,000 megawatt (MW) power from the coal-based power plants by 2030.
Because of growing environmental concern both at home and abroad and other issues, financial or otherwise, there has been a change of mind among the country's top policymakers. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) after a long review has decided to use LNG (liquefied natural gas) instead of coal in at least five proposed power projects having a total generation capacity of 5715MW. Originally these plants were approved as coal-based ones. The PMO has also recommended the cancellation of five other coal-fired power plant projects having a total generation capacity of 4171 MW. Three coal-based power plants are now in operation, generating only one-third of their installed capacity.
The decision concerning conversion and cancellation of power plant projects, surely, will cause inconvenience to the sponsors concerned. This sort of trouble could be avoided through proper assessment of the situation before going for many coal-based power plants. The relevant policymakers were at fault not only in the matters of energy-mix but also on future power requirement projection.
It is not just an issue of the environment. The existing overcapacity in power generation might have prompted the government to make a review of the power sector master plan. Under the prevailing scenario, nearly 42 per cent of the generation capacity remains unutilized. An over-enthusiastic projection of the country's economic growth has led to the creation of overcapacity in the power sector. This has been done in a hurry and cost-intensive manner. The government talked about renewable energy sources but made little headway in that direction. So, the latest move towards cleaner energy generation will be appreciated most. It will be, hopefully, further strengthened by local and foreign initiatives to promote renewable energy.