Nearly two years after a farmer was killed and over a dozen injured in police lathicharge over land acquisition for 1320-MW thermal plant at Gobindpura in Mansa district,the private developer,India Bulls,has pitched a part of the land for setting up two solar plants.
In Punjabs most ambitious move to tap renewable energy by bidding 250 MW to private developers,India Bulls was Tuesday granted letter of awards for two solar plants 30 MW and 4 MW. Citing high land prices as a deterrent in meeting the deadline of 13 months from today for commissioning the projects,the developers 18 small and 8 large plants were given letter of awards sought the state governments help to get panchayat land. But there would be no land acquisition pangs this time for India Bulls,which would be using 175 acres out of 750 acres it acquired from farmers in 2011 after a long-drawn battle.
The land acquisition for the 1,320-MW thermal plant at Mansa had started in July 2011. It turned violent in August after farmers from Gobindpura village refused to give up their land and accept the compensation. The resistance lasted till November that year when some farmer bodies announced to march to Chandigarh to protest against forcible acquisition. Later,following Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badals intervention,Peona Power,a subsidiary of India Bulls,reached a compromise with farmers and curtailed its original plan of bringing up the thermal plant in 900 acres to 750 acres after farmers owning 150 acres had refused to consent to the acquisition.
The project also courted controversy as it was approved under the Punjab Power Generation Policy,2010 that was aimed at accelerating generation capacity by awarding thermal power projects to private players through the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) route.
India Bulls group director Gurbant Singh said swapping the use of land from thermal to solar was permissible. The Government of India is not giving any coal linkages for two to three years. And until you have coal,there can be no environmental clearance. So we will be stuck with such valuable land for next two to three years. The two solar plants will require just 175 acres so we will still keep our option of thermal plant open in the remaining acres, he said.
Minister for Renewable Energy Bikram Singh Majithia said the Punjab government has given the company the option to switch to solar plants since coal allocations are not coming through. Earlier,Majithia said,The developers have cited land prices as a hindrance. For every one megawatt of solar power,five acre land is required. I wish we had land,we could then give it to them. We have identified chunks of land for setting up solar parks upto 1,000 MW installed capacity in some districts such as Gurdaspur, he added.
Punjab Energy Development Agency admitted availability of land at right price is crucial to making the solar projects viable. The developers are requesting us for panchayat land. That would make the project viable in less number of years while if they buy land it could take 10 to 12 years. But as per the terms of the letter of award,developers have to procure land within six months from date of award. If they purchase it,they would also benefit from appreciation in land prices. They can also take land on lease from farmers, PEDA director Balaur Singh said.