Sakri solar power plant may not be shifted after all

Cost escalation made Maharashtra's power generation company reconsider present site in Dhule district 

 
By Aparna Pallavi
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

The Sakri solar power plant in Maharashtra's Dhule district is touted as the world's largest solar power plant till date. Sometime ago there was a proposal to shift the  plant to Chandrapur district in Vidarbha region  following dispute over the land where the project will be developed. The move triggered protests in the tribal district where people see the 125 MW project  as a lifeline that would usher in industrialisation and employment. It now seems that Dhule may get to keep the power plant after all.

Subrat Ratho, managing director of the state power generation company, Mahagenco, has confirmed that the process for obtaining forest clearance has been initiated, raising hopes that the project will not be shifted.

Land tangle

The sequence of events relating to the acquisition of land for the Sakri solar PV (photovoltaic) power plant has many twists and turns. The project was proposed in 2010 under the Central government’s Jawahar Saur Urja Yojana (national solar mission). Initially, after the land in survey numbers 128 and 129 in village Shivajinagar in Sakri tehsil was identified, deputy conservator of forests (DCF) of Dhule, H M Patil, issued a no-objection certificate; the land in question was understood to be government land.

Sakri power plant's ups and downs

  • Project was proposed in 2010 under the Central government’s Jawahar Saur Urja Yojana
  • Land in survey numbers 128 and 129 in village Shivajinagar in Sakri tehsil was identified as project site
  • On November 18, 2010, forest department raised an objection, saying 225 ha of land identified in survey No 129 was actually forestland and that permission from the Centre would have to be obtained
  • By then Mahagenco had already acquired 88 ha land in survey no 128
  • On March 3, 2011, at a high-level meeting held by chief secretary, it was concluded that the 314.98 ha of land in survey no 128 is indeed government land
  • On May 20, 2011, state cabinet cleared the project. A Rs 1,600 crore loan agreement was signed between the Government of India and KFW German Development Bank on August 10
  • Forest department brought to the State government’s notice that as per affidavits filed before Supreme Court in 1997 and 2008, the current status of the land in question is ‘identified forest’
  • Mahagenco started seriously considering shifting the location of the project to Chandrapur in eastern Vidarbha. It triggered public protests as people were hoping the project would usher in industrialisation and create jobs
  • In view of the rise in project cost if the location is shifted to Chandrapur, Mahagenco has decided to go ahead with the process of obtaining clearance from the Centre, which will include compensatory afforestation, in Dhule itself
 
But on November 18, 2010, Patil raised an objection. He said there was a mistake, and that the 225 ha of land identified in survey No 129 was actually forestland and that permission from the Centre would have to be obtained under the Forest Conservation Act before the land could be acquired.

This new development came as a jolt, because by this time, Mahagenco had already acquired 88 ha land in survey no 128 from the government and some private parties, and had issued tenders. What's more, 56 tender forms, costing $ 2,000 each, had already been sold. To remedy the situation, a meeting was called by the state chief secretary on January 29, 2011, where a recheck of land records was ordered. At a second meeting on March 3, 2011 it was concluded on the basis of available land records that the 314.98 ha of land in survey no 128 is indeed government land; the allotment to Mahagenco was found valid.

Following this, the project was again set in motion and the state cabinet cleared it on May 20, 2011. A Rs 1,600 crore loan agreement was signed between the Government of India and KFW German Development Bank on August 10. But within days, the forest department threw another spanner in the works.

DCF Patil brought to the State government’s notice that as per affidavits filed before Supreme Court in 1997 and 2008, the current status of the land in question is ‘identified forest’, and that the project could not go ahead without the requisite clearance.

Since the project was a time-bound one with March 31, 2012 as the commissioning date, this new development at this late stage meant  a substantial delay of three to four months on account of the process of getting clearance, and a substantial financial loss to Mahagenco. At this point, Mahagenco started seriously considering shifting the location of the project to Chandrapur in eastern Vidarbha, where Mahagenco has sufficient land of its own.

Loss not just to Dhule

For the tribal district of Dhule, the Sakri project denoted progress, which would help stall large-scale migration from the area. “The project, especially with foreign collaboration involved, will put Dhule on the industrial map and attract more industry to this area,” says Nitin Bang, chief promoter of Khandesh Industrial Development Council, an industry association. “Since Dhule also falls in the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, the larger project will be helped if the power plant is located here.”

“The plant will generate direct and indirect employment for around 1,000 to 2,000 people,” says area MLA Yogesh Bhoye, “which would mean those many families can be freed of the compulsion to migrate. And once the plant becomes functional, there will be more industrialization, which means further employment.”

The plant has generated considerable interest in the local populace. Residents of village Bhamer, close to Shivajinagar, submitted a proposal offering 500 acres (202.3 hectares or ha) of land for the project, should the Shivajinagar location not materialize. “We had given this land to Suzlon for a wind farm, but the company failed to start work within the stipulated five-year period,” says resident Arjun Wagh. “We will be glad to give this land for the project at government rates because the project does not involve pollution. As it is we are not able to cultivate this land because of herdsmen from outside states who are encroaching it,” adds Wagh. He, however, expressed disappointment that none of the power generated by the plant will reach the local residents who  live  with 12-14 hour power cuts daily.

Mahagenco was in a dilemma because shifting location, too, meant losses in terms of project cost and power generation potential. “Dhule has just 51 days of rainfall and 947 mm annual rainfall compared to Chandrapur’s 1,225 mm,” says Bang, “Shifting the plant to Chandrapur would mean 15-20 per cent generation loss.”

Mahagenco's Ratho confirms this, and adds that soil conditions in Chandrapur are different from that of Dhule. “The project proponents are saying that if the location is shifted, they will need more money for construction of foundation, which will increase the cost of the project considerably. It would also mean fresh complications.”

Twin technologies

Of the 125 MW power to be generated at the plant, the contract for 75 MW has been given to Lanco Power for a Crystalline Silicon technology-based plant while the contract for the remaining 50 MW has been given to Megha Engineering, a Hyderabad-based company, for a thin-film technology-based plant.

Talking about the rationale behind employing two different technologies in a single power plant, Mahagenco chief engineer A G Konde says it was thought desirable because this is the first plant of its kind, and having both technologies will give  Mahagenco a chance to study the relative merits of each under similar conditions.

“Crystalline technology is proven to have stable efficiency for longer periods, and the land requirement is less, at around 1.6 ha per MW, compared to 2.6 ha in thin film technology,” he says. “Thin film technology, though it requires more land, shows higher performance under diffused light conditions, and has a smaller temperature coefficient of maximum power, which means it would work better during the morning and evening hours.” He says that thin film technology has a shorter life, but manufacturers have assured a life span of at least 25 years. “Crystalline silicon wafers have a longer life, but are difficult to repair once damaged.”

The crystalline plant has been allotted 120 ha while the thin film plant has been given 160 ha. Power generation cost is estimated at Rs 12 per kilowatt hour,  Konde adds.

Plans afoot for obtaining clearance

Ratho says that in view of the rise in project cost if the location is shifted to Chandrapur, Mahagenco has decided to go ahead with the process of obtaining clearance, which will include compensatory afforestation, in Dhule itself. The process could take about two three months, which will delay the commissioning of the project. “We have explained the situation to the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC), and have asked for an extension of a few months. If that comes through, Mahagenco will be saved financial losses in the form of fines it might otherwise have to pay to the state electricity transmission company, MSETCL.”


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