The level of hazardous Sulphur dioxide (SO2) gas and Particulate Matters (PM10) at the construction site for the ongoing Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Project has been found far higher than the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) in a laboratory report, reveals an Environment Protection Agency (EPA) report available with Pakistan Today.
Designed to offset the country’s energy shortfall, the 1300-MW power project was initiated by the Punjab government at a cost of $1.8 billion in May 2014. Later the project was made part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in April 2015 and placed under the list of prioritised projects. Per official announcements, the first of the two 660MW plants is expected to be put into operation on December 31, 2017, while the second plant will start generating electricity by June 30, 2018.
However, soon after construction work on the project began, a number of petitions were filed with different courts, including the Supreme Court (SC), questioning its execution on environmental grounds. The petitioners argued that the project would leave adverse impact on health and environment and was hazardous for flora and fauna as well.
In September last year, the nearby Saif Power Plant also moved a petition and took a stay order, but the court later vacated the same and allowed the government to continue with the Sahiwal power project.
The court, on another petition, ordered the EPA to prepare an Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (AAQM) report of the coal-fired power plant to determine if it met the National Environment Quality Standards (NEQS) or not.
The EPA carried out the test at the under-construction site for the power plant and two other spots namely Saif Power Plant and Chak Qadirabad from 12:00 Noon to 10:00 PM on October 23 last year.
According to the EPA report, the level of one of the major air pollutants SO2 was found more than 400 micro grammes per cubic meter (ug/m3) which was far higher than the NEQS (The NEQS level must not exceed 120 ug/m3 in Pakistan). Also, the respirable Particulate Matters (PM 10) were found around 370 ug/m3 and should not have been more than 150 ug/m3.
The report however found the other three tests for Nitrogen Oxide (NO), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Ozone under control, as per the NEQS.
Nevertheless, the Monitoring Laboratories & Implementation (ML&I) director told this scribe that the AAQM report for the Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Project was not reliable due to faulty instruments of the lab. He said that after procurement of new instruments the EPA would conduct a new test at the project site.
A reliable official in the EPA seeking anonymity told this scribe that the laboratory report was reliable, saying the department was reluctant to make the report public fearing panic among the local population.
Talking to Pakistan Today, EPA spokesman Naseemur Rehman Shah said that the high level of SO2 at the under-construction Sahiwal power project site was due to the large of number bricks kilns operating in the area. He said the EPA had served notices on these brick kilns. “The department is set to take legal action against such kiln operators under EPA’s Section 16,” he added.
Naseem termed the said project as one of the advanced and environment-friendly projects in the world saying ultra supercritical (US) technology was being adopted.
One of the petitioners, advocate Azhar Siddique, told this scribe that the project still had many vague prospects. He said the Climate Change Commission issued a report on January 16, 2016 which clearly mentioned that the world was abstaining from coal-based power projects in view of their adverse impact on climate change. He deplored that the Pakistan government intended to promote such projects.