The proposed 1,600 MW Godda Power Plant in Jharkhand, to be set up by the Adani Group with the aim of supplying power to Bangladesh, is to get its turbines from General Electric. A press conference on Friday, December 11, 2020, conducted online by civil society groups from Kenya, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Bosnia and Herzegovina urged GE to pull out of coal power plants across the world. There are 15 sites in 14 different countries where GE is aiding in setting up thermal power plants, even though it had earlier announced that it would withdraw from new-build coal plants.
Saturday, December 12, 2020, marked the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Change accord to combat climate change; reducing dependence on coal is one major objective of this global accord, to which 188 nations are currently party. The civil society members on Friday urged GE to pull out from these projects before it had unviable plants on its hands, given the declining interest in coal-powered plants worldwide.
In September 2020, GE released a press statement claiming it would “exit from the new build coal power market”, and pursue renewable energy solutions. That statement however did not elaborate on what the firm planned in the 15 sites where coal power plants were coming up. A plant is coming up in Lamu, Kenya, and local people worry that it will adversely affect fishing, farming and tourism. One protester said it would have adverse health impacts that could cause 1900 premature deaths. “We call for responsible investments,” Mohammad Atman, who heads the Save Lamu group, said.
R Sreedhar of New Delhi-based Environics Trust pointed out that the plant in Godda, Jharkhand, would depend on coal imported from Australia and Indonesia; the plant is set to be commissioned in 2022. The proposal for the plant came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh in 2015, accompanied by Gautam Adani, who heads the Adani Group. High-tension lines would be erected, to supply power from Godda to Jharkhand. Land for the plant was acquired after forcible eviction of farmers in Motia, Nayabad, Gangta, Mali and other villages. Many of the farmers were unwilling to move from fertile lands their families had cultivated for generations.
Sreedhar has challenged the plant in the National Green Tribunal. The proposed site is close to the Ganga, and at Sahebganj and other nearby areas, the river sustains the endangered Gangetic dolphins. The choice of site for this project, Sreedhar contends in his petition in the NGT, was in violation of siting conditions laid down by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Under the norms, a zero liquid discharge system must be implemented, but this has not been provided for at Godda.
Petitioners from across the world have appealed to GE to pull out, so that such harmful projects cannot be implemented. Once operational, the 15 new GE-aided plants would together be responsible for about 12 GW of coal power. That would spell catastrophe for ongoing attempts to prevent climate change by curbing the use of fossil fuels. People from across these affected countries have asked GE to disclose its future plans and explain the roadmap proposed for moving away from thermal power.
Coal is responsible for 46% of carbon di oxide emissions worldwide, and is the biggest contributor to human-induced climate change. The good news, though, is that progress is being made towards ending the dependence on coal. China’s consumption of coal is on the downward trend, and many European countries have also set in motion plans for the phasing out coal.
Meanwhile, German industrial giant Siemens AG too has come under criticism for providing rail signaling for the controversial Carmichael coal fields in Australia, also to be operated by the Adani Group. Bloomberg reported that the coal found there is of low grade, and will not find easy takers in the thermal coal market, which in any case is in terminal decline.
The World Bank, African Development Bank and several other global institutions and corporate firms have announced commitments to divest from coal. Meiki Paendong, representing West Java, Indonesia, where too a GE-aided coal plant is coming up, said at Friday’s online press conference, “We are already seeing immense impacts on different livelihoods like salt makers and farmers … we ask that GE stops its support of dirty coal.”
The legally binding Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degree Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. Global Carbon Project, comprising international scientists who track emissions, in a recent report noted that “cuts in global emissions of the order of one to two billion tonnes of carbon di oxide are needed each year between 2020 and 2030 to limit climate change in line with the Paris Agreement goals.” India accounts for at least seven percent of global emissions.
Rosamma Thomas is a freelance journalist