On a day when Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asked state governments to put in place necessary mechanisms to purchase excess solar power from farmers operating solar water irrigation pumps, nine marginal farmers in Gujarat who are part of the country’s first solar cooperative have set an example by selling 98,000 units of solar power worth Rs 6.98 lakh to the state government in just 20 months.
In the process, these farmers from Dhundi village of Kheda district, who used to be dependent on local lenders for funds, have not only doubled their incomes, but have improved their lifestyles. “It is a matter of pride that our cooperative model stands to be emulated in other parts of the country,” said Pravin Parmar, secretary of the solar cooperative Dhundi Saur Urja Utpadak Sahakari Mandali while reacting to Jaitley’s Budget speech.
Earlier in the day, the Finance Minister in his speech had said, “Many farmers are installing solar water pumps to irrigate their fields. Generation of solar electricity is harvesting of sun by the farmers using their lands. Government of India will take necessary measures and encourage state governments to put in place a mechanism that their surplus solar power is purchased by the distribution companies or licencees at reasonably remunerative rates.”
This decision to help farmers sell excess solar power to power distribution companies is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to double farmers’ income by 2022. “We are just days away from selling 1 lakh units of power to the state government. We have already sold 98,000 units of power,” says Parmar, while talking about the solar cooperative that has been selling power to power discom Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (MGVCL) since May 10, 2016. According to farmers of the cooperative, officials from the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) had visited the project in March 2017.
In January 2018 alone, Parmar sold 4,300 units of solar power from his farm, thus generating Rs 30,000 of additional income. “Since we have begun selling power to MGVCL, most of our incomes have doubled. I bought a cow last month and two of my colleagues from the cooperative bought bikes, which will help them go to the nearest market to sell vegetables,” Parmar added.
However, the farmers are not too happy with the remuneration that is paid for the solar power. “MGVCL pays only Rs 4.63 per unit of power while the rest Rs 2.50 is paid under the IWMI-Tata Water Policy Program that is handholding the project. The three new members who were added to our cooperative are being paid only Rs 3.24 per unit of solar power. The low remuneration is a matter of concern,” says Parmar.
According to experts, the solar cooperative in Dhundi is a model that not only discourages farmers from overdrawing underground water using free solar power, but also rewards them for diverting the surplus energy to the grid.