OPINION: No matter what government says, coal is no longer India’s cheapest energy source
At a recent seminar, chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian drastically under-estimated coal’s hidden or external costs, using a 2013 estimate of $4.6 billion, which was based on the contribution of 121 gigawatts of coal power to air pollution.
India now has nearly 200GW of coal. Further, the $4.6 billion estimate does not include other social costs (water pollution, deforestation, displacement, ash disposal etc.) To pass this off as an entire accounting of coal’s hidden costs is either shoddy or dishonest. The most recent estimate of health costs to India from burning all fossil fuels is over $140 billion by the Health and Environment Alliance. Both coal and renewables receive a variety of tax and policy sops, but only one sector has been allowed to indiscriminately dump its waste in our air, rivers, seas and farmlands for decades at no cost.
The claim that India is suffering from ‘carbon imperialism’ is a throwback to outdated justifications for climate inaction. Given the frequently coerced acquisition of forests and farms for mines and power plants, and the disproportionate flow of coal’s benefits to elites, one could argue that continued coal exploitation is in fact homegrown carbon imperialism. Thus we have the dichotomy of ‘surplus power’ due to the doubling of India’s coal capacity since 2007, even as 400 million Indians remain without electricity.
Photo courtesy of Ken Teegardin.