Skip to main content

Covering 13,000 acres, world's largest solar park in Karnataka 'impacts' local biodiversity

By Anirudh Menon* 

The world is looking at a transition from energy production using fossil fuels to renewable energy sources i.e, Wind, water and solar (WWS) in order to achieve the carbon net zero targets. India too has committed to achieve the carbon net zero targets by 2070 at COP 26. It has also set an objective of generating 500GW of power from non-fossil fuels by 2030, out of which 450GW is to be generated using renewable energy sources.
A move to renewable energy is the need of the hour but in order to achieve this in a truly sustainable manner, there must be consideration of several aspects. One of which is to reduce the ecological damages that are incurred during the setting up of large utility-scale solar parks.
An article published back in 2009, based on a study conducted by Stanford university, gave insight into a complete transition from fossil fuel energies to renewable energy sources by 2035 or the latest by 2050. In the article, the plan put forth was to harvest 51% of wind energy and 40% using solar energy.
Out of the 40% to be generated using solar plants, 30% should be harvested from solar panels set up on homes and commercial buildings. This is very crucial when it comes to setting up a sustainable system. Covering large tracts of land for setting up of large scale utility parks leads to a huge loss of biodiversity in that area.
In India, setting up of solar parks does not require environmental clearances as it is not covered under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006, so there is no detailed study done to see the extent of environmental and social impacts these parks have on the local biodiversity and on the local communities before these parks have been approved.
Take the example of the Pavagada solar park in Karnataka, the largest solar parks in the world, that produces 2050 MW of electricity and covers an area of about 13,000 acres. Most of this 13,000 acres were agricultural lands; those were taken on lease for a period of 28 years; and were commons used as grazing pastures by the local community.
It also allowed for free movement of wildlife from the nearby sanctuary, called the Jayamangali Blackbuck Reserve. These open tracts of land have been fenced for the solar park which leads to fragmentation of the local fauna’s habitats. Pavagada is one of the last places which hosts a decent number of Indian grey wolves. With such habitat degradation we could see the extinction of this species ,just like how cheetahs that once freely roamed the plains of southern India, went extinct.
The neighbouring forests also host a healthy population of black bucks and other endangered species. Open tracts of land acted as groundwater replenishers which not only helped the local flora and fauna but also the agriculturalists. Concretising and fragmenting such eco-sensitive lands will degrade the land to such an extent that post the lease period, it truly will be a wasteland as cultivation of any sort will not be possible. Therefore, it’s crucial for renewable energy setups to look at sustainable measures to ensure whether it helps the local flora and fauna to thrive.
The other aspect to consider is the production of equipment required for tapping these renewable resources. Production of many of the components required for solar panels and turbines are rare earth metals such as neodymium, dysprosium etc. Mining of these materials is at a very minimal rate at the moment, so there is ample extraction in demand at the moment.
But if the demand for such materials increases due to the push for achieving targets set by different countries, it might not be sufficient. This could lead to over exploitation of natural resources in order to meet the demands. They are found abundantly in the environment but at very low concentration so it is not economically feasible to extract them.
The energy utilisation during the extraction process of these resources are very high as well and it is very harmful to the environment. Recycling of these metals is difficult and hence newer technologies need to focus on efficient methods in order to ensure sustainability. Taking the example of manufacturing of solar panels, China is one of the highest exporter of solar panels in the world at present.
It’s crucial for renewable energy setups to look at sustainable measures to ensure whether it helps the local flora and fauna to thrive
There are two main concerns here, one is the high carbon emissions that are reported in the production of these panels which are said to have double the carbon footprint when compared to the panels produced out of Europe. Secondly there are several reports of forced labour being employed for the production of these panels in Xinjiang, which is a huge violation of human rights. Countries like the US have banned the import of solar panels from China whereas several other countries continue to import the solar panels out of China due to the lower costs.
Lifespan of the equipment used also needs to be considered as there needs to be efficient methods to dispose, recycle or reuse them. Many of these components are toxic and it is evident that there is going to be a surge in demand for these, thus in a few years to come there is going to be huge amounts of waste and unused parts that are going to be generated. 
Hence it is very critical that waste management and recycling of all these equipment be looked at very carefully otherwise even in the name of ‘green projects’, the environmental damage going to be done will be dangerous.
Renewable energy is the future and the best alternative as of now, to help mitigate the horrendous impacts of burning of fossil fuels. Talking about the way forward, engaging local communities in and around proposed development sites is critical. Agri voltaics in place of ground mounted solar installations is one way in making sure a healthy development of such projects which would not only help local farmers to cultivate on their lands, but also help combat the higher temperatures and lesser water retention of the soil as studies have shown.
Another solution is to avoid covering wide open spaces with panels and other concrete structures, rooftop solar installations have huge potential that would help tap enormous amounts of energy to help attain the targets of various countries. Decentralised renewable energy projects are also key in ensuring that generated power reaches all parts of the country and helps to address the needs of remote areas.
This would also help in cutting the transmission costs and losses. Hence, these aspects need to be critically analysed and implemented in order to ensure that green projects are truly green indeed.
---
*Research associate with the Environment Support Group. Source: Centre for Financial Accountability

Comments

TRENDING

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

Attack on Gaza: Western media 'went out of the way' to obscure, protect perpetrators

By Sonali Kolhatkar*  Israeli forces killed more than a hundred Palestinians and wounded more than 700 on February 29, 2024 during a distribution of food aid in Gaza city, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 30,000 since October 7, 2023. The food aid massacre was straightforward in its deadliness as armed Israeli forces aimed weapons at desperate, hungry Palestinian civilians and killed many of them. It was also plausible within the context of who has firepower and who doesn’t, and wholly consistent with Israeli atrocities, especially those committed since October 7, 2023.

Living standards in 'model' Gujarat worse than major states: Govt of India document

By Rajiv Shah  Amidst raging controversy over whether the latest Government of India’s “Household Consumption Expenditure Survey 2022-23 Fact Sheet: August 2022-July 2023” suggests that India’s poverty levels are actually down to 4.5 to 5%  during the decade-long Narendra Modi rule, a state-wise breakup in the 27-page document shows that “model” Gujarat’s average consumption expenditure is far below most of the so-called developed states.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Not livable in summer, Chitrakut PM-Awas houses 'push' tribals in moneylender trap

By Bharat Dogra*  Those who are in-charge of implementing the PM-Awas scheme of rural housing can rightly take pride in what has been achieved in Dafai hamlet (Karvi block, Chitrakut district, Uttar Pradesh). All the Kol tribal families here are extremely poor and vulnerable. In a rare achievement, almost all of them have received housing assistance under PM Awas. 

Stressing on standardisation, efficiency, capitalists 'intensify' workers' exploitation

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The productivist ideology lies at the core of the profit-making pyramid of capitalism. It perpetuates a relentless cycle characterized by busy schedules, workplace tension, an imbalance in work-life equilibrium, and a pervasive sense of alienation. 

Development? This tribal hamlet in Chitrakut has no toilets, no electricity connections yet

By Bharat Dogra*  As we moved away from the starting point of the Bundelkhand Expressway and a famous pilgrimage site into a side-road, the hills of Chitrakut here appeared to be more and more isolated. Another turn, and we appeared to have reached almost a dead-end. However it is here that over 80 households of the Kol tribal community have been living for a long time.

WTO 'loses legitimacy': CSOs shut out of normal participation in MC13 at Abu Dhabi

By Deborah James  Given unprecedented repression of participants, the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at Abu Dhabi should not continue until historical and international standards and human rights for participation in global governance are restored.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".