Amid growing demand by farmers for regular power supply in the daytime, the state government has turned to solar power to fulfil power requirements in Maharashtra. Farmers need electricity to operate irrigation pumps, while all mechanised operations in agriculture and allied sectors require electricity.
Since power supply in rural areas is irregular, farmers are forced to work on their fields at night, and this has remained unaddressed for several decades now. Load shedding during the day is common.
State Power Minister Nitin Raut told The Indian Express, “We have decided to provide solar energy, which will serve a twin purpose. First, it will help provide uninterrupted power supply to farmers in the fields for at least eight hours daily in the daytime. Second, 10,000 villages that have remained without electricity can get power using solar energy.”
He added that the energy department was working on the five-year plan. The energy minister said, “Solar energy was inevitable, so as to cope with the rising demand for power during the day by the agriculture sector.”
Raut also said since power supply to farmers for agricultural activities was highly subsidised, they had to look for an alternative renewable energy source like solar to minimise long-term expenditure.
Officials in the energy department said the conservative estimate of the subsidy for farmers and allied sectors is Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 crore per year. During peak summer, when power demand goes up, the cost for procuring power also came at a higher price, they added.
Officials also said the subsidy to farmers, however, remained constant resulting in higher expenditure that had to be cross subsidised to recover money through power supplied to industries and domestic consumers.
According to Raut, “In the next five years, the state would be in a position to generate 17,385 MW from solar energy with an investment worth Rs 75,000 crore.”
He added that the projects will be undertaken through public-private partnerships.
“The surplus solar energy will help farmers receive eight hours of power during the day. And part of the solar energy could be provided to the industrial sector. Since the solar energy cost will be lower compared to thermal, it would boost both agriculture and industrial sectors,” he said.
He added, “We intend to bring five lakh pumps under solar energy in the next five years,” adding, “using solar energy, we plan to provide electricity to 10,000 households in remote and distant areas. These are small and scattered villages/hamlets reeling from lack of power supply.”
Raut said the contribution of solar power would account for up to 30 per cent of the overall requirement by 2030, and that, at present, almost 80 per cent energy was based on coal and fossil fuel.
Dismissing apprehension over financial feasibility aspect, Raut said, “Solar power is economically viable. There is huge interest in this sector envisaged as it is financially viable and compatible environmentally.”
The state government was reaching out to private players in its endeavour to promote solar energy, and it was a great opportunity for industries and investors to explore this sector keeping the social aspect in mind, he added.
He also said the government promised single-window clearances through a platform designed by the industries department for all those keen on investing in this sector, along with a dedicated liaisoning officer for big solar projects. A coordination committee will conduct monthly reviews to ascertain the progress for projects above 25 MW, he added.
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