Maharashtra to boost power generation with three new solar energy plants

A marquee project for the Maharashtra government to advertise its renewable energy commitments, the 125 megawatt (MW) solar plant was among the first large-scale projects by India’s nascent solar sector, which contributes around 1% of the installed power capacity in the country. "We just got the forest clearance" for the project, said G.J. Girase, director (finance), Maharashtra State Power Generation Co. Ltd.

"We expect it to be commissioned by November." The project was announced last May, but hit an obstacle in September when state officials in the environment ministry said that a portion of the land meant for it was classified as a "forest", and thus couldn’t be readily allocated for industrial development.

"We took the matter to (the) Central government. Importantly, this land was completely degraded with no cultivation for several years. Its barrenness was one of the reasons it was chosen as a site for solar development in the first place," said Girase on the sidelines of the Asia Solar Energy Forum.

Mint couldn’t independently confirm this with the environment ministry. The project, which is a part of a larger 150 MW solar power project at Dhule, is entirely financed by the Maharashtra government, with around 80% of the project cost loaned from German development bank KfW.

The Dhule project is the first of a series of solar projects greater than 100 MW to come up in India. Most of India’s functioning solar power projects generate less than 40 MW each, with only Reliance Power Ltd confirmed to build a 100 MW plant in Rajasthan.

Under the government’s ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission that started in January 2010, India aims to have 2,000 MW of installed solar power generation capacity by 2013, 10,000 MW by 2017 and 20,000 MW by 2022.

Separately, several states have committed to source at least 0.25% of their installed capacity from renewable energy sources, with the Dhule plant also being built to fulfil such obligations. The successfully commissioning of the plant at Dhule will see another tranche of projects greater than 100 MW each coming up in Maharashtra’s drought-prone Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, said Girase.

Other experts said this will pave the way for similar, large initiatives in Rajasthan and Gujarat. "Rajasthan has far more land suitable for large solar projects and in fact the state government’s thrust is to invite investors-they could be other Indian states or private developers-to establish big solar power projects here," said Madan Mohan Vijayvergia, director (technical), Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corp. Ltd. Experts, however, say that while land acquisition and environmental clearances are key issues, the biggest bottlenecks in India’s solar power sector is the infrastructure required to ensure that the solar power generated reaches consumers.

"There may be a lot of interest in solar power. However, investors will come in only when the state utilities have their finances in order. For that there have to be improvements in electricity transmission infrastructure, fair tariff regimes, etc. Not many states in India can boast of that now," said S. Chander, director general, regional and sustainable development, Asian Development Bank, one of the biggest lenders to India’s renewable energy sector.