Himachal a power state but what about local benefit and environment? Part-II


By: Manish Verma

Large number of hydro projects are coming up in the state because of huge tax incentives and CDM benefits associated with them. These projects utilize local resources like water and land but provide benefits to outside industries, investors and employment to outsiders. What locals get is, agony, apathy and indifference. In my last post I talked about these issues in great details and concluded that these projects should be aimed at developing local areas and employment, using locally available resources and skill building through community involvement. Let’s move ahead on the same lines.

Economy in Himachal Pradesh is based on agriculture and tourism. The latter is not as percolated as the former.  But even the agricultural activities are not very productive given the seasonal availability of the irrigation water. Food grains are generally produced for self consumption and vegetables and fruits are the main commercial crops. Even when the yield is high, fetching proper prices is difficult because the vegetables are perishable. Irrigation, storage and access to market at the right time are the bottlenecks in the whole value chain.

Renewable Energy technologies have emerged as an important catalyst to facilitate community development by serving the dual purpose of electrification and employment. Renewable Energy sources are inexhaustible and readily available in our environment. So the only cost associated with such systems is of initial capital cost and operation and maintenance cost. Initially, they might appear to be costly but in long term they are definitely cheaper and cause negligible resettlement and rehabilitation issues.

There is enough water available in our khuds which we just let go off waste. Small reservoirs can be built on these khuds to store water and this water can be lifted using solar powered pumps to another storage tank uphill. From there it can be discharged to villages and fields for irrigation and drinking purpose. Similarly solar powered cold storages can be constructed for storing of vegetables and fruits till such time when the farmer is able to fetch a suitable price for it.

Micro hydro projects are under execution at many places but need to be implemented at a larger scale. With improved technology Hybrid Watermills can be utilised for electricity generation and as a flour-mill. In Uttaranchal these projects have earned handsome revenue for the villagers and the best thing is that they require little investment (20000- 25000) to modify existing mills. Biomass is commonly available in all the villages. Not only it is useful as fuel but also for electricity generation through biomass gasifier. Tribal areas of Himachal Pradesh have good wind regime. So, a hybrid system of wind turbine and solar photovoltaic cells can be utilised to provide electricity in these areas. Solar cells will generate power on sunny days and on cloudy days wind energy can be used to generate power. This system is a bit expensive but lesser than the conventional system of extending grid supplied power to such remote areas.

The advantages with renewable energy sources are many:

  • The most prominent being that it utilizes locally available resources instead of transmitting energy from long distances.
  • It can serve small local demand and are ideally suited for hilly regions where villages are small but sparsely located. Supplying, electricity through grid network is financially non-viable in such circumstances.
  • These systems are simple so local people can be trained to operate, maintain and manage such systems, creating employment opportunities for youth.
  • These are modular in nature. They can be assembled at the installation site even if road network is not there.
  • Locally available skilled labour reduces the cost of operation & maintenance.
  • A network of such projects linked with income generating activities or industries such as handicrafts or agro-processing will create employment opportunities and also unite the village communities.
  • These projects are tax exempted and CDM benefits can also be derived from them.

Cooperative movements in various states have helped in improving living conditions of people involved with them. The best thing is that they use resources and skills of local people. A classic example is the milk cooperatives (like Amul) in Gujarat. Government just brought in the much needed investment and gave some technical assistance and provided a market within their reach. Similarly in Himachal, these power projects can be run and maintained through such cooperative societies. The power may still be sold to the needy states but the cash generated will reach local people and will result in local development. Government must consider it as a serious option as individuals from state are not coming up to invest in these projects. If there can be a cooperative for milk or a Bank then why not for a small hydro project. These projects are bound to be successful as power generated would definitely be sold and the cost of production will be less, plus the tax and CDM benefits will also reduce the cost of project.

Unfortunately, in-spite of there good potential, these sources of renewable Energy (other then hydro) are being neglected in the state. Neither there is any initiative to implement such schemes nor is any information available in public domain to promote entrepreneurial ventures. HIMURJA, which is the nodal agency for implementing Renewable Energy in Himachal Pradesh is just a mock spectator and should learn a lot from other government agencies like in Uttranchal. NGO like Avani (http://www.avani-kumaon.org) in Kumaon are actually working in grass root level against all odds and has done what is incredible. Such an initiative is lacking in Himachal Pradesh.

Until and unless the government wakes up from its reverie of exploiting every inch of hydro potential available in the state, it seems that it would keep on depriving people of their lands and emotions. Instead of going for the big projects it should go for such smaller projects which do not require much space (they can even be installed at roof tops) and will actually help local people without displacing them. Initial support is required from government and investors in terms of finance, technological and training inputs, institutional support and awareness among people for the need of renewable energy and its benefits. Once initiated and gradually supported by paying capability of rural people it will become self sustainable and bring the much needed benefits of economic growth to rural India.

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