The mammoth coal-fired Cheyyur electrical station was first imagined by bankers at India’s Power Finance Corporation and senior engineers across town at the Central Electric Authority. That was in 2005, when the country was rich in fossil fuel resources and desperate for electric power. Though India mined more coal than almost any other country, endemic blackouts and brownouts enfeebled its economic prospects.
In the central government’s view, the coastal beaches, mud flats and palm groves here along the Bay of Bengal seemed a reasonable site for a $2 billion power station. There was plenty of room for mountainous coal piles, towering smokestacks, six giant turbines, water pumps, effluent pipes, coal ash storage ponds, and a new port. The 589-hectare (1,455-acre) plant site included portions of this community and five other isolated farm and fishing villages.
Twelve years later, as waves lap against Bay of Bengal beaches and inland farmers cultivate stone fruits and vegetables in Edenic, palm-shaded groves, it is plain that neither Tamil Nadu plant gained traction. Work on 12 other power stations has been suspended. The Ultra Mega Power Projects idea, as originally conceived, is dead in India.
It is difficult if not impossible for a single place, or a lone individual for that matter, to embody the full array of emerging factors around climate, carbon, water, finance, culture and cleaner technology that have utterly changed how India and the world view the value and risks of coal. But if such a place exists, it is in the old and settled villages surrounding Vilambur. Read More…