Govt’s Big Solar Park Push Could Run Into Land Hurdle

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The union cabinet decided last month to double India’s solar power generation capacity, from 20 GW to 40 GW, by setting up 50 solar parks, which are solar projects with a capacity of 500 MW or more concentrated in one area. But this additional 20 GW would mean acquisition of at least 80,000 acres of land, thrice Jaipur’s area, and possibly a problematic move in a land-starved country, as IndiaSpend has reported in January 2017, when talking about canal-top solar installations, where solar panels are installed atop lengths of canal, to save on the cost and conflict involved in land acquisition.

There are already signs of trouble with three recorded conflicts related to land acquisition for renewable energy projects. One of these involves the ultra-mega solar park–that is, one with a capacity of 500 MW or more–in Anantapur district in western Andhra Pradesh, according to Land Conflict Watch, a mapped online repository of land conflicts across India. Delays in land acquisition add to the cost of the project, also making developers wary of investment.

India’s record with solar power generation does not offer reasons to be optimistic either. With less than a month left for end of financial year 2016-17, India still has over 70% of its target to achieve, while the targets for upcoming years are even higher.

The latest plan now is to generate 40% of India’s solar renewable target of 100 GW by 2022 from solar parks and ultra-mega solar power projects. The augmented solar capacity, when operating at full capacity, will generate 64 billion units of electricity annually, cutting 55 million tonnes of CO2 per year over its life cycle, according to this statement of the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE).

For the sake of comparison, 64 billion units of electricity per year would be enough to power two Delhis, which required 31.1 billion units of electricity during 2016-17, according to the Load Generation Balance Report. This power ministry report records energy requirement and availability in the country for the upcoming year.

India currently has one of the largest renewables expansion programmes in the world, aiming as it does to install 175 GW of capacity by 2022–over thrice the current capacity of 50 GW–in line with its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). INDC refers to the promise of alternate energy generation made by countries in the 2015 Paris Agreement with a view to cooling a rapidly warming planet.

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