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Coal fires up India farmers against power plants

August 03, 2009
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In India, Energy companies want to build coal-based power stations on land near the coastal town of Alibag, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of the western city of Mumbai, according to the Associated Foreign Press. The land, which is used for sowing rice crops and growing vegetables like okra and white onions, is among 8,500 acres (3,400 hectares) earmarked for the construction of four giant thermal power plants. Activists opposed to the development fear it could destroy the livelihoods of thousands of people in the area, pollute the clean air and soil and create health problems among the poor farmers and their families. The situation in the lush foothills of the Western Ghats mountain range embodies the problem facing India: how does it meet the increasing demand for energy as the country''s population explodes and economic growth continues. According to the International Energy Agency, more than half of the world''s energy demands by 2030 will come from India and its fellow emerging economic powerhouse China. But while China was reportedly building two new power stations per week, India''s energy infrastructure has struggled to keep pace with rapid growth. Some 400 million people currently lack regular electricity and even where it is available power cuts can be daily occurrences. Maharashtra Energy Generation Ltd, a unit of India''s largest private utility firm Reliance Energy Ltd, Tata Power and the other companies involved in the proposed plants say the 7,700 megawatts produced will ease supply problems. The villagers and environmentalists supporting them accept the need for more electricity but question whether coal is the answer. With concern about high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, they want renewable energy, which currently supplies about 25 percent of India''s electricity, to be given greater priority. According to Greenpeace India, wind, solar and tidal power could provide up to 35 percent of the country''s power by 2030, with less environmental damage and social consequences. But India -- the world''s third-biggest producer of electricity from fossil fuel -- appears set on coal, which at present provides just under 55 percent of the country''s power.

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