Dhapa plant hits KMC block

Hindustan Times 2009-07-30, Kolkata

KOLKATA : The proposed green energy power plant at Dhapa has come across a speed bump and could move away to some other state. While project pr0.moter Astonfield Renewable Resources is frustrated with the city civic body's reluctance, Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) now prefers to question the project's economic viabili.ty, even after it failed to ear.mark 30 acres in the last two years.

Astonfield chairman Sourabh Sen, a former Wall Street banker with roots in Chandernagore, said after waiting for two years to start the plant, its technical partner in the solid waste-to-power project, Veolia Environment has put its foot drawn. The French multinational is the global leader in such green energy projects, running plants at various in China and UK, he informed.

"Being a Bengali, I’m passionate about doing things for Bengal, Veolia, however, has no such allegiance to the state and is perturbed with the delay. In our recent meeting the French company has clearly stated that if we don’t get the land by October, we must move to some other state," Sen said.

Although Sen refused to reveal where the project could move to, informed he said that. Astonfield and Veolia has already checked out probable sites in two other states. Sources informed that with Astonfield planning a similar project in Bihar, Kolkata loss could be Patna’s gain.

Earlier in 2007, Astonfield had won a tender to set up a solid waste-to-power plant at the Dhapa, which was expected to supply grid power to the state electricity board at state specified per unit rate of Rs. 5. While the power plant was expected to generate around 36 MW, using solid waste from the landfill, II MW of it was to be used to sustain the plant.

An upset Sen pointed out that while the project’s estimated cost was around Rs. 630 crore. Astonfield had already spent around Rs. 14 crore, including on a project feasibility study to ascertain the calorific quality of the city’s solid waste and on trips to various Veolia plants, including a trip to the French major’s UK plant, where KMC Chief engineer Arun Saha was taken to check on the project’s viability "Over the last two years, we have spoken to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, power minister Mrinal Banerjee and a host of senior officials but it all seems to have been in vain. We just wanted 20 crores for the plant and an additional 10 crores for our own landfill on KMC’s suggestion out of Dhapa’s 187 acres," he said.

KMC, however, has its own version and member mayor-in-council (solid waste management) Chandana Ghosh Dastidar told HT that the issue was not earmarking land for the power plant but that Astonfield was asking for a fresh land on the EM Bypass for other commercial purposes, which the civic body was not ready to allot.

"When we refused to accept the heavy tipping fees (paid for collection and carriage of solid waste from houses to the plate) they wanted fresh land in lieu of it," she said KMC was also no keen on the project due to its "experimental nature".

"We’re sure the plant is technically okay but we don’t see any commercial viability in the vicinity," she said.

A perturbed Sen pointed out that commercial viability was his responsibility and while sub-meeting the feasibility and other reports to KMC, Astonfield had pointed out that the break even period was between three to five years. "We didn’t ask for any other land because without the plant, the land is no use to us. My advisors have informed me that KMC is bankrupt and might not be able to pay the tipping fees." Since we’re taking all risks and resp0nsibilities, we’re more concerned with commercially viability", he said.

While a reluctant KMC and a perturbed Astonfield are engaged in a war of words, it seems that the loss would be for Kolkata, which being one of the most polluted cities in the world, could do with its first step towards clean energy.