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180,000 acres may be 'diverted' for proposed 37,490 MW solar power capacity farms

By Shankar Sharma* 

This has reference to a recent statement in Rajya Sabha in which RK Singh, Union minister of new and renewable energy, said that the government has “approved 50 solar parks in 12 states till November 30”. Whereas it can be seen as a matter of pride for the government to claim to have approved so many solar power parks, the same should also be a matter of a major societal level concern, when we consider the ecological impacts of such a large number of solar power parks.
The land diversion, whether forest lands or agricultural lands, if continue like this, can pose multiple & serious issues to the society from the perspective of food production capacity and fast shrinking forest cover.
The diversion of land for a total solar power capacity of 37,490 MW could be in excess of 180,000 acres (at the rate of 5 acre per MW). Can the already resource constrained and hugely populous country of ours afford to loose so much of the critical natural resources, just for land based solar power parks, for which we have a much better option in the form of roof-top solar PV systems, which will also come with multiple additional advantages?
Karnataka state is reported to have diverted of about 11,000 acres of semi-arid agricultural land for a single solar park of 2,000 MW capacity in Tumkur district, and there is also a media report that few more thousand acres of land may be diverted to add few hundred MW more capacity for this solar power park.
There are also reports that few more such land based solar power parks are being planned in the state. When we also consider the land diversion required for the associated power transmission lines and sub-stations, along with the forest lands required for pumped storage hydro power plants (which are perceived as needed to back up such large solar power parks), the societal level ecological and social costs can be much higher than the benefits from such projects.
Most of these societal level costs are entirely avoidable through diligent implementation of techno-economically attractive options such as distributed kinds of renewable energy sources, and measures for DSM, efficiency improvement and energy conservation.
It is necessary to undertake serious deliberations on all the associated issues, and endeavor to minimise the overall societal levels costs from the power sector. It would be a great service to the country, if the interested civil society groups and individuals are also effectively involved in such deliberations.
In this regard the efforts to persuade the PMO, NITI Aayog, Power & NRE Ministry, and other relevant agencies of the Union government to come up with a diligently prepared national energy policy can be a great step forward.
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*Power & Climate Policy Analyst. This article is based on the author’s representation to the secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India

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