Contradictory views surround the environmental impact of coal-fired power generation with some pushing for the application of cutting-edge, clean coal combustion technology.
|Hai Phong 1 and Hai Phong thermal power plants (Photo: VNA)
The northern province of Quang Ninh, a major tourism hub in the region, has begun the process of pursuing green growth and sustainable tourism development. Despite being now home to seven coal-fired power plants, the province is against the opening of any new cement and coal power projects in a bid to achieve greater sustainability.
The Mekong Delta provinces of Bac Lieu and Long An are not keen on coal-fired power projects, they are both embracing the implementation of liquefied natural gas-fueled (LNG) power as an alternative. Both localities are concerned about the negative impact the projects could have on the environment, particularly the effects on aquatic farming.
Meanwhile residents and authorities in the northern province of Bac Ninh, which holds the Pha Lai and Pha Lai 2 coal-fired power plants, make no complains about the two power stations there, said Vu The Uy, thermal power project manager of the Consulting Center for Thermal and Nuclear Power under the Hanoi-based Institute of Energy.
Uy noted that the two power stations were installed and have been upgraded with advanced technology and equipment.
However, many operational coal-fired power plants pose a threat to those living in the area as the projects built with older technology and equipment can cause negative effects, Uy added.
Preliminary statistics show that annually, 21 coal-fired power plants nationwide consume some 45 million tons of coal, whilst at the same time discharging 16 million tons of cinder and ash. The volume of cinder and ash released by coal power stations is on the rise.
Nguyen Van Nam, director of the Institute for Brand and Competition Strategy, has claimed the cinder and ash can cause negative effects on the environment and the economy in the long term as the waste treatment methods can be costly.
Coal-fired power or an environmental killer?
Many arguments against coal-fueled power generation which have been publicized by local media in recent times have been neither convincing nor scientific, believes Prof. Dr. Truong Duy Nghia, president of the Vietnam Thermal Association (VTA).
It is illogical to conclude that coal-fired power generation could release heavy metals that lead to cancer, Nghia said, elaborating that heavy metals are common and can be found everywhere, in soil, blood and animals amongst others.
Heavy metals result in toxic effects only when their contents are excessive. Thus, one should clarify the environmental assessment of coal-fired power attached with the detailed contents of heavy metals, the VTA president suggested.
Nguyen Tan Binh, head of the department of science, technology and environment under the Vietnam Electricity group (EVN), stated at a recent workshop in Hanoi that all the 12 coal-fueled power plants run by EVN were installed with advanced technologies that meet the requirements set for environmental protection.
Many projects such as Vinh Tan 4, extensions to Vinh Tan 4, and extensions to Duyen Hai 3 were developed using supercritical technology, thus reducing carbon emissions.
Regarding the use of excess cinder and ash, EVN proposed that excess ash could be used as a kind of ground enhancement material for expressways. This is a feasible method as it helps to consume large volumes of ash and bring about economic benefits, Binh said.
A cutting-edge solution
Under the revised Power Development Plan VII, Vietnam plans to build more than 70 coal - fired power plants with a combined capacity accounting for 49.3% of the country’s total electricity output by 2020, 55% by 2025, and 53.2% by 2030 respectively.
Thus, coal-fired power generation still plays a very significant role in ensuring the future of the country’s national energy security, especially in the wake of the National Assembly approving the deferral of nuclear power plants in the central coastal province of Ninh Thuan, said Cao Quoc Hung, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade.
Coal-fueled power expansion comes up along with many controversies about their environmental impacts. Hence, the future development of coal-fired power can be increased, working in tandem with the application of ultra-supercritical (USC) power generation technology.
USC technology could be seen as a solution to reducing the environmental impact of coal-fueled power production.
|Bae Yong Jin, assistant vice president of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and head of the KEPCO thermal power development team
Bae Yong Jin, assistant vice president of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and head of the KEPCO thermal power development team, underpinned USC as a clean-coal technology. He added that it helps in raising the efficiency of thermal power plants and reducing their carbon dioxide emissions compared to subcritical and supercritical ones.
Jin noted the capacity density of coal - fired power plants in South Korea is almost over 10 times that of Vietnam’s, adding that South Korea and Japan have gained success in applying cutting-edge technologies when expanding their coal-fired power capacity. Therefore both countries are able to abide by the strict emission standards set for coal-fired power generation, which are higher than those set in Europe.
Vu The Uy, from the Institute of Energy, suggested that more attention should be paid to selecting reliable contractors, installing coal-fired power plants with state-of-the-art equipment and technologies imported from developed countries.
Uy believes they are the best way to avoid doubts in the efficiency of coal-fueled power stations and their harmful effect to public health.