Five months after the Gujarat government launched the ambitious Suryashakti Kisan Yojana (SKY) to help supplement farm incomes, state government officials here said that a number of farmers were “disinterested” in the project that sought to generate solar power from farms.
In June this year, the state government had launched the Rs 900-crore pilot project under which over 12,000 farmers were to be encouraged to install solar panels to produce electricity for their own use and sell the surplus to power grid. The solar panels at farms were to be connected with 137 feeders in 33 districts that in turn are connected to the grid. Even after work began in July, only three feeders have been commissioned and a fourth one got activated this week in Gandhinagar. These four feeders connect about only 100 farmers to the power grid in the state, said state government officials.
“The biggest challenge is ability of the farmers to pay the initial upfront payment which is five per cent of the cost of setting up of the unit,” said R B Patel, Superintendent Engineer (R&D) of Gujarat Power Research and Development Cell of GUVNL (Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd) at a panel discussion on “Building Climate Resilience for Doubling Farmers’ Income” earlier this week.
Since the farmers are encouraged to set up solar irrigation pumps with a capacity ranging between 3 HP (horse power) and 125 HP, the maximum 5 per cent could go up to over Rs 3 lakh.
Moreover, under the SKY, farmers have to bear about 40 per cent of the project cost that includes the five per cent upfront payment. The remaining 35 per cent is taken as a loan by the Gujarat government on behalf of the farmer. This repayment has to be, however, done by the farmer. The state and the Central governments each bear 30 per cent of the cost.
Why farmers are cold about solar panels
There is no 'interface' in the SKY project to create awareness about the programme among farmers. State-run power utilities have no incentive to persuade them to join the project, while private developers associated with the project lack the necessary expertise. The contribution sought from farmers for the SKY project — 40% — is also much more compared to the country's first solar cooperative at Dhundi in Kheda district, where the average contribution of farmers was only 12%. The rest of the cost of the Dhundi solar cooperative was borne by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). In the case of the solar panels, the remaining cost will be split by state and central governments.
The state government pays Rs 3.5 to the farmer for every unit of surplus power sold to the grid, and an additional Rs 3.5 per unit to the farmer till the loans are repaid.
“Secondly, for every horse power of installed capacity, only 2,000 units of solar power get generated every year. Most of the farmers, especially in north Gujarat are drawing more power since the underground water level in the region is low. In such cases, the farmers will find it difficult to repay loans if they do not have enough surplus power to sell to the grid,” the official said, adding that the scheme was to encourage farmers to use less of the subsidised energy from the discoms.
A state government official told The Indian Express that the Gujarat government was roping in farmers into the SKY project after “assessing their repayment capability” because under the project, the maximum burden of the loan falls on the farmers, amounting to nearly Rs 21-22 lakh depending on the capacity of the irrigation pump.
Similar views were expressed by one of the contractors who is working with the state government on the project.
“The developers (working on the project) in my opinion will not be interested in the project because it is extremely challenging to deal with farmers. Even big farmers are not too keen to give the initial upfront payment which comes to Rs 2 to 3 lakh,” said Karan Dangayach, managing director of Shashwat Cleantech Pvt Ltd.
Due to non-cooperation and disinterest from farmers, Dangayach said, that Shashwat Cleantech Pvt Ltd — one of the empaneled firms for this scheme — had to exit from districts like Morbi.
According to Dangayach, developers will be more interested in tapping the business in untapped solar roof-top projects than in dealing with farmers in rural areas.
The Gujarat government currently supplies subsidised power at 60 paise per unit to farmers and is desperately trying to reduce this quota by encouraging them to take up solar power and thereby consume less of the subsidised power from the grid.
Tushaar Shah, head of IWMI (International Water Management Institute), Anand, said that the “vigilance” kept by power distribution companies overpower thefts might become the responsibility of the farmers.
“Under Sky project, the responsibility of vigilance will come on the farmers as the discoms will track the solar power supply at the feeder-level. So any losses in transmission will get distributed among the farmers.. This will eat into the revenue of farmers. I do not see enough attention being paid to this,” Shah said, adding that the SKY project faces the risk of “withering away.”
A state government official said that 30 per cent of Rs 900 crore has been released and the first four feeders under the project connecting about 100 farmers have been connected.