Sun burnt

In a panic to meet its so­lar en­ergy tar­get Kar­nataka changed its pol­icy. The move has al­most de­stroyed the ini­tia­tive


The wrong ex­e­cu­tion of Karanataka's so­lar pol­icy al­most de­stroys the ini­tia­tive

THE THOUGHT be­hind Kar­nataka’s move was no­ble, but the ex­e­cu­tion was shoddy. When the state an­nounced its so­lar pol­icy on May 22, 2014, and de­clared that its tar­get was to pro­duce 400 MW of power from rooftop so­lar pan­els by 2018, the de­ci­sion was hailed as am­bi­tious but praise­wor­thy. It, how­ever, did not make much im­pact. In De­cem­ber 2015, the state govern­ment changed the pol­icy and opened up the sec­tor. Within just five months, it signed agree­ments for in­stalling so­lar pan­els to pro­duce 1,556 MW. But the de­ci­sion also gen­er­ated con­tro­ver­sies, court cases and dis­con­tent among the pub­lic.

Kar­nataka has five power dis­tri­bu­tion com­pa­nies, or dis­coms, that are al­lowed to sign power pur­chase agree­ments ( ppas) with any­one who wants to in­stall rooftop so­lar pan­els and sell the power pro­duced to the grid. Re­al­is­ing that ppas for only 5 MW had been signed since the pol­icy was an­nounced, the state govern­ment is­sued a no­ti­fi­ca­tion on De­cem­ber 10, 2015, which said that ppas can even be signed for build­ings that are “un­der con­struc­tion”. The rate at which power can be sold to the grid was kept at R9.56 per unit, as per an or­der is­sued in Oc­to­ber 2013. The rate was the high­est in the coun­try at that time. As a re­sult, by May 2016 the state re­ceived 5,631 pro­pos­als for ppas, of which 3,494 were signed. How­ever, power pro­duc­tion un­der most of them has not started, and on Septem­ber 23, 2016, the to­tal in­stalled rooftop so­lar power ca­pac­ity of the state was just 19.36 MW.

Blame game

On March 23, the is­sue was raised in the Kar­nataka As­sem­bly by the Op­po­si­tion par­ties who said that ppas had been signed for much more power than what the tar­get was and the rates at which the so­lar power is be­ing bought are so high that the govern­ment is bound to in­cur huge losses. Fol­low­ing this, the state govern­ment asked all the dis­coms to stop sign­ing ppas and the Kar­nataka Elec­tric­ity Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion ( kerc)

low­ered the rate to R7.08 per unit. A vig­i­lance in­quiry was or­dered on May 21 and no­tices were sent to all own­ers who had signed ppas us­ing the “un­der con­struc­tion” clause. On July 6, D K Shivaku­mar, the state’s en­ergy min­is­ter, told the me­dia that the ex­ec­u­tive en­gi­neers who had cleared ppas for build­ings/struc­tures whose con­struc­tion had not even started were to be blamed. “They have worked with mala fide in­ten­tions to help some land de­vel­op­ers and pri­vate power pro­duc­ers,” he said, an­nounc­ing the sus­pen­sion of nine ex­ec­u­tive en­gi­neers and threat­en­ing to sus­pend 50 more.

The govern­ment said that ppas re­quire a Rev­enue Regis­ter (RR) num­ber, which is a unique num­ber given to a build­ing whose con­struc­tion is com­plete. Sign­ing a ppa with false RR num­ber or not pro­vid­ing one makes the ppa in­valid. On pre­lim­i­nary in­quiry, the govern­ment noted sev­eral vi­o­la­tions, like ppas be­ing signed with­out RR num­bers or two or more agree­ments be­ing signed for the same premises.

PPA hold­ers bear the brunt

The worst suf­fer­ers in the en­tire con­tro­versy are the peo­ple who signed ppas and made huge in­vest­ments. One such per­son is Chin­nappa Sor­gavi, a farmer in Ba­galkot district of Kar­nataka. He had planned to build a green­house with so­lar pho­to­voltaic rooftop and ap­plied for the ap­proval of a 499 kW con­nec­tion to Hubli Elec­tric­ity Sup­ply Com­pany ( hes­com), the area dis­com. Af­ter a pre­lim­i­nary fea­si­bil­ity study, hes­com of­fi­cials signed a ppa with Sor­gavi. On July 11, Sor­gavi re­ceived a no­tice from hes­com that his ppa was fraud­u­lent be­cause the in­for­ma­tion he had sub­mit­ted was false. “hes­com had thor­oughly ex­am­ined my site. Only af­ter that the dis­com signed the ppa. I don’t un­der­stand how am I try­ing to cheat them?” asks Sor­gavi.

Sim­i­lar is the case of N G San­thosh, a soft­ware en­gi­neer in Ben­galuru. San­thosh wanted to start a poul­try farm in the out­skirts of the city on a piece of land owned by his mother. His mother signed a ppa with Chamundeswari Elec­tric­ity Sup­ply Cor­po­ra­tion Lim­ited and San­thosh made in­vest­ments to make the land shade-free and the ter­rain lev­elled. These are not a pr­ereq­ui­site for poul­try farms, but are nec­es­sary to set up so­lar pan­els. “I spent more than R10 lakh on the farm,” he says. So when his mother re­ceived a let­ter from the govern­ment stat­ing that she had cheated the dis­com and the agree­ment was not valid, San­thosh was fu­ri­ous. “We re­ceived the no­tice in July and stopped the con­struc­tion,” says San­thosh. He says that they have not vi­o­lated any rule. Even the ex­ec­u­tive en­gi­neers sus­pended say the same. “We have per­formed our tasks as per the govern­ment guide­lines and with the per­mis­sion of our su­pe­ri­ors,” as­serts one of the sus­pended en­gi­neers, re­quest­ing anonymity.

ppa hold­ers say that not only are they be­ing ac­cused of giv­ing false in­for­ma­tion, vig­i­lance of­fi­cials have threat­ened that crim­i­nal cases will be lodged against them. Many say they can ei­ther ac­cept the can­cel­la­tion of their ppa or face a crim­i­nal case. “Quite a few ppa hold­ers in my re­gion have ac­cepted the can­cel­la­tion of their agree­ment. Only a few like me have taken the is­sue to court,” says Sor­gavi.

Whose fault is it?

The main cul­prit is the state’s en­ergy depart­ment which is­sued the De­cem­ber 10 no­ti­fi­ca­tion, say ex­perts. Since there is no cen­tral sys­tem to con­nect all the dis­coms and to keep track of the cu­mu­la­tive signed ca­pac­ity, the com­pa­nies kept sign­ing ppas in­de­pen­dently. “The whole mess is due to poor pol­icy im­ple­men­ta­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tion due to which both the state govern­ment and the ppa hold­ers are in­cur­ring losses,” says Praveen Kulka­rni, a so­lar en­ergy ex­pert who was ap­pointed mem­ber of a tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee to sug­gest amend­ments to Kar­nataka’s So­lar Pol­icy 2011-16 by the state govern­ment in 2013. When con­tacted, kerc chair­per­son Shankar­alinge Gowda re­fused to com­ment. E-mails sent by Down To Earth on Septem­ber 28 to P Raviku­mar, ad­di­tional chief sec­re­tary, en­ergy depart­ment of the state govern­ment and Ra­jen­dra Cholan, manag­ing direc­tor, Ban­ga­lore Elec­tric­ity Sup­ply Com­pany Lim­ited, one of the state’s five dis­coms, too re­mained unan­swered.

“Rooftop so­lar should be an ideal so­lu­tion for a coun­try with scarce land and sources of en­ergy that are dif­fused across the coun­try. It is the ad-hoc poli­cies of the govern­ment that are block­ing the de­vel­op­ment of this sec­tor in In­dia,” con­cludes Chan­dra Bhushan, deputy direc­tor gen­eral of Delhi-based non-profit Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment.

On March 23, the Op­po­si­tion par­ties raised the is­sue in the Kar­nataka As­sem­bly and said that the state govern­ment's agree­ments for rooftop so­lar power plants are bound to bring huge losses

Kar­nataka plans to in­crease its rooftop so­lar power pro­duc­tion to 400 MW by 2018 from the cur­rent 19 MW

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