How a twisted definition is setting up a monumental folly in India
Here is how the World Bank proposes to solve climate change: lend money to build a 4,000-megawatt coal plant in India that will emit 25.7 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. By way of comparison, that’s half a million tons more than the worst carbon emitter in North America, the Scherer plant near Macon, Georgia.
In a weird distortion of logic, Tata Ultra Mega is considered a Clean Development Mechanism by the organization that administers the Kyoto Protocol. This allows industrialized nations to invest in the plant as an alternative to domestic emissions reductions.
The thinking is that since Tata Ultra Mega uses supercritical coal technology, it will increase the average efficiency of coal use in India. Turns out World Bank policy is to invest in “abatement of climate change impacts” through “investment focus on … supercritical coal technology, ultra supercritical or subcritical coal technology with energy efficiency higher than [the] existing national average of the sector.”
Do not be deceived by fancy-sounding terms like “supercritical.” We’re still talking about burning coal, just at higher temperatures and pressures that notch the efficiency of the process upward from about 36 percent to maybe 43 percent.
The idea that building more coal plants is a step toward “abatement of climate change impacts” could not be sillier, especially since there are baseload technologies available now for solar-rich locations that create zero emissions. In an informative critique of Tata Ultra Mega, Dr. David Wheeler, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, points out that Gujarat, the location of Tata Ultra Mega, is ideal for concentrated solar power (CSP): “India does have a scalable, economically feasible alternative to coal … [because] the region near Mundra has a huge solar potential and is one of the most sparsely-settled areas in India. Baseload solar power with thermal storage for 24-hour operation is now technically feasible … “
In his analysis, Dr. Wheeler places the cost of CSP power at 8.23 cents per kilowatt-hour versus 7.65 cents per kWh for supercritical coal, but says the difference could be made up in true carbon offsets.
If the World Bank approves Tata Ultra Mega, it will not only be saddling the planet with a huge new carbon load and the Indian population with a huge load of mercury and particulates, it will also be shooting itself in the foot financially, since its cost estimates of $4 billion for a 4,000 mW plant are ridiculously low, given the recent huge leaps in coal plant costs.
Unfortunately, in a little-noticed announcement on Feb. 8 in the Financial Times, the top finance officials of Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. agreed to create a multi-billion dollar clean energy fund that would be administered by the World Bank. That would be a great step forward if it weren’t for the World Bank’s preposterous inclusion of coal-fired generation in its definition of “Clean Development Mechanism.”