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The mortality impacts of current and planned coal-fired power plants in India

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Pollution impacts in India

A recent paper published in PNAS—The mortality impacts of current and planned coal-fired power plants in India—by our CGS coal project researchers Ryna Cui and Nathan Hultman, along with others, goes in depth on a study done to better understand the impacts of coal power plants and analyze potential solutions to avoid premature mortality and health damages in India.

Under current operating conditions, coal-fired power plants in India generate significant amounts of particulate air pollution. We quantify the impact of plants operating in 2018 and plants in the planning stage as of 2019 on ambient PM2.5 and on premature mortality. The health damages from coal-fired power plants can be avoided by replacing coal-fired power plants with renewable energy sources, which will also reduce GHG emissions. Taxing electricity generated from coal at a rate that reflects the value of health damages would incentivize the adoption of renewable energy. We calculate the magnitude of this tax. We also discuss the health benefits of reducing power plant emissions by implementing India’s emission control laws enacted in 2015 but not yet in force.

We examine the health implications of electricity generation from the 2018 stock of coal-fired power plants in India, as well as the health impacts of the expansion in coal-fired generation capacity expected to occur by 2030. We estimate emissions of SO2, NOX, and particulate matter 2.5 μm (PM2.5) for each plant and use a chemical transport model to estimate the impact of power plant emissions on ambient PM2.5. Concentration-response functions from the 2019 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) are used to project the impacts of changes in PM2.5 on mortality. Current plus planned plants will contribute, on average, 13% of ambient PM2.5 in India. This reflects large absolute contributions to PM2.5 in central India and parts of the Indo-Gangetic plain (up to 20 μg/m3). In the south of India, coal-fired power plants account for 20–25% of ambient PM2.5. We estimate 112,000 deaths are attributable annually to current plus planned coal-fired power plants. Not building planned plants would avoid at least 844,000 premature deaths over the life of these plants. Imposing a tax on electricity that reflects these local health benefits would incentivize the adoption of renewable energy.

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