Karnataka in ecological fix
what is more important, producing clean energy or protecting an area's ecosystem? The choice has to be made in Karnataka in a case instantiating the complexities of sustainable development. A local court in Chikmagalur district recently granted a stay on a 93 megawatt (mw) windfarm project at Bababudangiri Hills on the Western Ghats in the district. The move came in response to a petition by a local conservation group, which said the project would harm the area's ecosystem. The project was to be undertaken by Chennai-based B B Hills Wind Farms Development Private Limited.
The project site is on a shola grassland ecosystem, a major watershed area of the region. Three tributaries of river Bhadra originate there. The area is also a corridor for wildlife, including tigers from the Bhadra Sanctuary. In fact, it is part of the Global Tiger Conservation Priority Unit; Western Ghats is one of the world's 25 bio-diversity hotspots.
The Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited (kredl) is the state's nodal agency to facilitate windfarm projects. As wind power is considered environment friendly, Union ministry of non-conventional energy sources (mnes) does not demand an environmental clearance for windfarm projects; kredl is expected to take stock of this aspect. The agency says denuded forests in hilly areas are suitable for such projects. "In Karnataka, the winds are on the hills, near forests...There will be some sound disturbance; roads will open up the place. But compared to thermal projects, there will be much less damage," explains kredl director B Shivalingiah. A total of 130 hectares (ha) land was leased out to the company for 30 years, of which 23 ha were inside forests. kredl pays the forest department for diverted lands. "Anyway the winds are there, so we don't see why it cannot be harnessed," says Sudarshan G A, deputy conservator of forests, Bhadra Wildlife Division.
Windfarms are viewed as profitable ventures in the state. The state government in the last eight years issued licenses to 225 companies for developing winfarms generating 22,358.97 mw power. Meanwhile, B B Hills Windfarms refuses to consider alternative sites, saying the project's viability is site specific.
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