Report focuses on wind, solar projects in India; overlooks small hydropower projects
The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has recently released a report, recommending division of the country into various zones to minimise the environmental impacts of renewable energy (RE) projects.
For this, the ministry in its report, titled “Developmental Impact and Sustainable Governance Aspects of Renewable Energy Projects”, has suggested nationwide zonation of regions into go-green (no objection), go slow and no-go regions for solar and wind energy projects. The report, the main focus of which is wind and solar projects in India, recommends a few steps for sustainable development of renewable energy projects. Small hydropower projects have not been looked into in this study based on MNRE officials’ visits to sites in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
The study, following visits to six wind and power project sites, three each in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra and one solar project site in Andhra Pradesh, suggests that the zonation should be based on factors like ecological sensitivity, RE-generation potential of the region, alternate land use potential and keeping in view conflicts over land and water. It goes on to say that new projects aimed at generating renewable energy should be developed at places which fall in the category of go-green areas.
The report also emphasises that regulating use of water in solar farms can help minimise water conflicts in future. Methods like wiping solar panels instead of using sprinklers to wash them and water storage, collection and reuse can help save water.
Local community welfare and maximization of land use are other aspects mentioned in the report. It says that a project proponent can be given the onus of local welfare in the region and some part of the revenue can be used for local welfare. Sharing the generated power with villages to ensure that 100 per cent of their electricity demand is met is another recommendation.
Centre for science and environment (CSE) has welcomed the report and its recommendations. “Assessment of environmental impacts of RE projects by MNRE is an important initial step towards sustainable development of RE sector in India. However, there is a long way to go as MNRE needs to transform these recommendations into policies or regulations. Only then can we be confident of sustainable growth,” says Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, CSE.
In its report, titled “Green Norms for wind power”, CSE had highlighted the environmental impacts of wind power and small hydro power and had recommended that wind power projects should be brought under the ambit of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Presently, there is no EIA required for wind power projects in India irrespective of huge tracts of forest land being diverted for these. Until now, about 3,932 ha of forestland has already been diverted for wind power projects in India without any EIA studies.
The MNRE report has also not looked into small hydropower projects (SHPs) which also have major ecological impacts. Presently, in India, SHPs having capacity of less than 25 MW do not come under the ambit of EIA. Another CSE report, titled “Green Norms for Green Energy: Small Hydro Power”, had highlighted key environmental concerns pertaining to SHPs and recommended that SHP projects equal or greater than 1 MW should come under the ambit of EIA. Also, a minimum environmental flow of rivers has been recommended in the CSE report for all SHPs. CSE recommends that 50 per cent of the river flow in lean season and 30 per cent river flow in monsoon should be set aside as environmental flow.