Punjab harnessing solar power in fields, targets 1,000 MW in two years

Chandigarh, June 26 (IANS) Punjab, which produces a major share of the country’s foodgrain, is all set to tap solar power in the agricultural fields in a big way, aiming to generate 1,000 MW, up from the current 225 MW, by 2017, a minister has said.

“We are far ahead of many states to get investments in clean energy. Our aim is to tap 1,000 MW solar energy either from rooftop projects or from the fields by 2017,” Renewable Energy Minister Bikram Singh Majithia told IANS.

“We have just launched a scheme in which we are encouraging the farmers to set up solar power plants ranging from 1 MW to 2.5 MW in the fields to promote clean energy,” Majithia, the brother-in-law of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, added.

In less than two months since launching the “Land on Lease” scheme, more than 3,500 acres have been offered by farmers to investors for setting up the solar projects.

Majithia said solar energy is one of the most abundant sources in the state, which averaged around 300 sunny days annually.

Officials of the state-run Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA) say there has been a 25-fold increase in the solar power production in the state in just two years.

Currently, 225 MW has been tapped with an investment of around Rs.1,500 crore ($235 million). In 2012, it was just nine MW.

Majithia said a major chunk of the investment is coming from NRIs (non-resident Indians).

“NRIs alone have commissioned 42.30 MW solar power projects with an outlay of Rs.244 crore,” he said.

As per the latest scheme, a farmer can give land on lease after PEDA approval for 30 years at an annual lease Rs.35,000 to Rs.50,000 per acre with a five percent annual escalation.

“The lease amount would be an additional income for the farmers, who constitute 60 percent of the state’s total population. They could also cultivate certain crops on land where the solar panels would be set up,” Majithia said.

According to him, new projects of 229 MW capacity at an investment of Rs.2,100 crore have been granted clearance by the government.

Five acres of land and investment of Rs.5 crore is required for installing a 1 MW solar power plant. If a farmer wants, he can easily get a bank loan up to Rs.5 crore, a PEDA official told IANS.

A rooftop solar plant requires 100 sq ft of space.

Under the net-metering policy announced in November 2014, PEDA has got requests from 1,046 households for setting up solar plants. Net-metering measures the amount of power a household utilises and the amount it feeds into the state grid, for which it gets paid by the state government.

The minister had inaugurated a 2.10 MW solar plant owned by US-based NRI Ranbir Singh Chhina of Abundant Energy Private Ltd in a village located near the India-Pakistan border in Tarn Taran district on May 30.

With an investment of Rs.16.40 crore, this was the state’s first large-scale investment project in the fields.

The Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd will purchase electricity from the solar power producers. It has fixed Rs.7.04 per unit, a price that has been frozen for 25 years – the duration of agreement between the power corporation and the producer.

India’s largest rooftop plant of 7.5 MW at Radha Soami Satsang in Beas near Amritsar is all set to be expanded to 31.5 MW to become perhaps the world’s largest rooftop plant.

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