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The Hidden Costs of Power: Health Effects of Coal Electricity Generation in India

Principal Investigator(s): 

Abstract: 

Investigators: Maureen Cropper, Shama Gamkhar, Kabir Malik, Alex Limonov, and Ian Partridge

(Resources for the Future Working Paper, Forthcoming June 2012)
 
India relies on coal to supply 70 percent of its electricity and has laid out ambitious goals to increase electricity generation capacity by taking advantage of its domestic coal reserves. But though the increased use of cheap coal resources ensures that India’s economic boom is not hampered because of power shortages, it comes at a heavy cost.  Air pollution produced by coal-fired power plants has been linked to premature deaths from lung cancer, respiratory illness and heart disease. The important questions facing India are how stringently pollution from power plants should be regulated, and what form these regulations should take.  
 
In this paper we estimate the number of premature deaths associated with emissions of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from individual coal-fired power plants in India in 2008. We find that approximately 75 percent of premature deaths are associated with sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and 20 percent with nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. Policies to control air pollution from Indian power plants have traditionally focused on reducing particulate emissions, due to the high ash content of Indian coal.  The low sulfur content of Indian coal has, perhaps, been responsible for failure to directly control SO2 emission.  This paper suggests that more emphasis should be placed on SO2 control. Our estimates suggest that the one flue-gas desulfurization unit (scrubber) in India easily passes the benefit-cost test.  Our results also suggest significant health benefits associated with washing coal.  Coal washing saves lives by improving the heat content of coal, as well as by reducing its ash and sulfur content.