Finding emoluments for generating solar power unattractive, some farmers of the country’s first solar cooperative at Dhundi village in Gujarat are now opting to sell water to neighbouring farmers after they found it fetches them 2.5 times more remuneration. After six small-time farmers in Kheda district came together to form a solar cooperative that was christened “Dhundi Saur Urja Utpadak Sahakari Mandali” last year, it entered into a power purchase agreement with Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (MGVCL) in the first half of 2016. Under this agreement, the state discom agreed to purchase power from the farmer’s cooperative at Rs 4.63 per unit, though it was an experimental model having a total installed capacity of 56.4 kw. This model not only provides a supplementary income to the farmers, but also incentivises them for not overdrawing groundwater using solar power.
The farmers of this cooperative are set to receive the initial payment of Rs 30,263 for successfully harvesting power from their farms for 80-odd days. However, on an average, a farmer is slated to earn only between Rs 1,800-2,000 per month.
However, this group of enterprising farmers are fast discovering that it is more profitable to sell water using the solar-powered irrigation pumps in their farms to neighbouring farmers, than to sell power to the local power distribution company. Some of them have laid PVC pipes that route water from their tubewells to neighbouring farms.
“For irrigating one bigha, we need about four hours and 20 units of solar power. If we switch off our irrigation pumps and supply the power to the grid we will earn about Rs 93. However, if we sell the water from our tubewells to the neigbouring farmers, we end up earning Rs 250 for the same four hours,” said Parvin Parmar, a member and secretary of the cooperative.
Since May 10 this year, when this solar co-operative began supplying power to the grid, farmers have been switching off their solar power pumps after irrigating their farms. The excess solar power generated by the solar panels at their farms was getting diverted to the grid, thus providing them a supplementary income. However, finding this income too minuscule some of them have started to keep their irrigation pumps working overtime and supply water to farmers who don’t have irrigation facilities. Pravin has been selling water to at least 20 neighbouring farmers using his pumps. “The rate fixed in the power purchase agreement is pretty low. The government should pay us more,” he feels. Ramabhai Chavda, another member of the cooperative, sells water, said a family member.
Tushaar Shah, a water management expert who has been helping the farmers run the solar cooperative, said, “The power purchase agreement inked by MGVCL is the lowest possible price given to any solar generator in the country. We had sought a minimum rate of Rs 7-8 per unit. The need is to link solar irrigation pumps to the grid and help reduce the Rs 4,000 crore subsidy burden that the government gives to farmers every year.”