By Sreekumar Raghavan

MUMBAI: Why is Tata Power Co Ltd silent even as environmental groups have urged World Bank to rethink about funding the $4.5 bn 4000 MW ultra mega coal powered Mundra power project in Gujarat?

At the outset, Tata group may feel that it is an issue between environmental groups and the World Bank. And World Bank President, Rober Zoellick was quick to react today itself. However, his defence was weak.

He said that if developing nations are deprived of energy it will be counter productive and a setback for the larger issues of climate change. It will be important for the environment community to also work with the developing world as we are trying.

Equally weak was justification of Rashad Kaldany, IFC head for global infrastructure, who said that coal plant was by far the least expensive option at this stage to meet India's 160,000 MW power needs over the next decade.

Neither the Tatas, nor the World Bank can ignore the fact that world wide there is a movement against further promotion of coal fired power plants. The older coal fired plants cause more harm to the atmosphere by releasing more carbon dioxide whereas in the Mundra project it is said that carbon emissions would be much lesser than conventional plants.

The key issue is not whether India needs 160,000 MW more power or that solar power or wind power could generate how much. The issue at stake is whether the best technology is being used for the Mundhra project.

For example, in some countries like Australia the government is planning to halt setting up of coal powered plants that do not capture or sequester the Co2.

I have read and commend the Interim Report of Professor Ross Garnaut, submitted to your (Australian) government. The conclusion that net carbon emissions must be cut to a fraction of current emissions must be stunning and sobering to policy makers.

Yet the science is unambiguous: if we burn most of the fossil fuels, releasing the CO2 to the air, we will assuredly destroy much of the fabric of life on the planet. Achievement of required near zero net emissions by mid century implies a track with substantial cuts of emissions by 2020.

Aggressive near term fostering of energy efficiency and climate friendly technologies is an imperative for mitigation of the looming climate crisis and optimization of the economic pathway to the eventual clean energy world, James E Hansen, Director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies wrote in a letter to Australian Prime Minister.

Hansen further wrote that coal caused fully half of the fossil fuel increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air today, and on the long run coal has the potential to be an even greater source of CO2.

Due to the dominant role of coal, solution to global warming must include phase out of coal except for uses where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Failing that, we cannot avoid large climate change, because a substantial fraction of the emitted CO2 will stay in the air more than 1000 years, he added.

Or see the following reports that appeared in New York Times: Xcel Energy has told Colorado officials that it plans to close two coal plants and add 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar power, in addition to a new natural gas plant. The company wants to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 10% by 2015.

In Nevada, Sierra Pacific Resources delayed construction of a coal plant and moved up the schedule for a natural gas powered plant instead.

The Tennessee Valley Authority decided in August to add a $2.5 billion unit to a nuclear power plant rather than construct a new coal facility the other main option because of the uncertain economics.

Altogether, 53 coal fired plants were canceled or delayed in 2007, according to Global Energy Decisions, a private consulting firm that tracks power plants for the Department of Energy.

China uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined. And it has increased coal consumption 14 percent in each of the past two years in the broadest industrialization ever. Every week to 10 days, another coal fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego, according to a New York Times report.

To make matters worse, India is right behind China in stepping up its construction of coal fired power plants and has a population expected to outstrip China's by 2030.

In the circumstances what Tata Power Co and the World Bank needs to do is create awareness about the technologies involved, whether that is the best available so far. Or perhaps, the technology that Kensen talks about in his letter to Australian Prime Minister.

No purpose will be served by remaining silent nor defending weakly as World Bank did. For the world wants to know if the best technology will be used to power coal plants because it has been proved to be heavily polluting and contributing to green house gas emissions.

Commodity Online tried to get the response of Tata Power Co through phone and email on the issue but did not receive a reply so far.

If indeed they have used the best technology, why are the Tatas silent?