Chennai: Solar farms of private companies have been sprouting up on arid lands in Tamil Nadu to generate power, but ‘solar panels’ on fertile agricultural lands too may soon come up if the Tamil Nadu Energy Agency (TEDA) has its way.
TEDA has drawn up a plan to enlist farmers from across the state and supply them solar panels free of cost to generate power. While farmers could use the generated power to run their agricultural pump sets to irrigate farmlands, they will also get to export the surplus power to the grid and earn money for it.
Solar panels with a power generating capacity of 11KW would be installed and connected to the grid in the vicinity. With the targeted 20,000 farmers, TEDA aims to establish a solar power generating capacity of around 220MW. These farmers would join the Centre’s farmer energy security and regeneration campaign, which has aimed to establish 10 lakh grid-connected agriculture pumps across the country.
According to the original plan, the Centre would extend 30% subsidy and the respective states would contribute an equal share for the scheme, with the farmers contributing the rest (40%). Since the Tamil Nadu government is already extending free power supply to farmers, the government is envisaging of bearing 70% of the subsidy to make it free for farmers.
Officials in TEDA, the nodal agency to implement the scheme, have sent a proposal to the state seeking its nod to give “incentive for farmers” for the excess power generated from the solar panel installed in the farm and supplied to the grid. Generating power at the farms would ensure quality and uninterrupted supply for agriculture.
“Though irrigation activities will be restricted to daytime, unlike the present when free power is made available at night, farmers could have an income from the excess power sold to the grid,” says a senior TEDA official.
But, Tangedco seems to be skeptical about the whole plan, especially since it will be a double whammy for it, say officials.
“We tried to convince farmers, waiting for free power, to withdraw their applications and opt for the solar power scheme. But many of them want both free power as well as solar power, and the rest are not interested,” says a senior Tangedco official.
In Tamil Nadu, 21.17 lakh farmers have been benefiting under the free electricity scheme, consuming 13.064 million units per annum. Burdened with rising debts and losses, Tangedco’s cash flows to suffer due to delayed payments by the state for the free power supplied to farmers.
“We are not confident about the scheme taking off unless farmers are made to join it and quit free power,” says the Tangedco official.
The concept is a take-off from the ‘solar pump’ scheme, says Sudhakar Thanikai, director-technical, YanSun Natural Energy. While the solar pumps could generate electricity for around 12 hours a day, the farmer’s irrigation requirement and other purposes was limited to usually about four hours a day, rendering the balance energy going waste. “Under the new scheme, the government plans to get free land, especially those lying vacant, to generate power. While farmers with round-the-year cultivation may not be willing to give their land for such schemes, those with limited water resources could join,” says Sudhakar.
In terms of farmers’ income, the scheme looks better only on paper. “From a 11KW farm, around 44 units of electricity per day can be generated. Even if one takes a liberal 80% plant load factor, each plant can generate 36 units per day. With solar power being bought by the grid at a maximum of Rs3 per unit that works out to an income of Rs108 per day,” says Sudhakar. If farm usage of generated power and the evacuation expenditure of Tangedco are accounted for, it leaves a big question mark over the farmers’ actual income.
In Tamil Nadu, while officials from the agriculture engineering department are claiming that solar power pump sets are a big hit among farmers, numbers say otherwise.
A mere 584 farmers have installed solar-powered pump sets in the delta districts such as Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Tiruvarur, and Trichy, officials said.
N Srinivasan, a progressive farmer from Veeran Arasanpettai near Boothalur in Thanjavur district said in the case of agriculture lands where there is no source of power, farmers opt for solar pump sets, but it is the electric and diesel-powered ones that are preferred, he said.
(With inputs from Sivakumar B and Vincent Arokiaraj)
News Source: The Times of India