India’s booming economy continues to rely on coal, dashing hopes for green energy advancement.

Nestled amid a stretch of salt flats in southern India, the Tuticorin power plant serves as a microcosm of the conundrum facing the world’s fastest-growing major economy: how to ensure reliable energy for 1.4 billion people. Originally slated for closure, the 1,050-megawatt coal facility, a local giant operational for four decades, lacks the space for retrofits to comply with government pollution standards, leading the power ministry to target its shutdown by 2022. Despite this, the plant operates at full throttle, registering 90% utilization in February. Aging boilers devour coal from mines located nearly 2,000 kilometers away, exacerbating the nation’s emissions footprint.

India’s electricity consumption is surging at an unmatched pace among major economies, fueled by escalating temperatures and incomes that drive sales of power-hungry appliances such as air conditioners. This explosive demand has exposed the vulnerabilities of the country’s power grid. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged rapid expansion of solar and wind energy to replace polluting fossil fuels, his administration has struggled to keep pace with demand, granting a reprieve to antiquated, inefficient coal plants like the one in Tuticorin.

In recent months, Modi has sanctioned a new wave of power plant development and extended the operational life of numerous existing coal assets. This decision places India in conflict with global allies who eschew coal on environmental grounds, jeopardizing Modi’s aspirations to combat air pollution and diminish the country’s significant share of greenhouse gas emissions.

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