Call it an alternative model of diversification or a solution to Punjab's agricultural crisis, the state's deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, on Thursday appealed to the peasantry to lease out their lands to the solar-energy-sector investors.
"The farmers who have leased out land (for solar power generation) are happier than those tilling it," Sukhbir stated at the first-ever Punjab Solar Summit, organised here to bring the land owners and investors on a common platform for the state's ambitious drive to harness 2,000 megawatt (MW) of solar energy within two years. Wooing the investors, he even said the state government was even "open to subsidising solar-energy pumps" by diverting the money being given to Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) for free power to the agriculture sector.
The exemption to investors from the 'change of land use' (CLU) charges would also continue under the state's policy of promoting non-renewable energy sources. Declaring Punjab a power surplus state now, the deputy CM said it was now in a position to sell electricity. The government honoured 47 solar-energy-sector investors at the summit anchored by state renewable energy minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
Sukhbir congratulated Majithia and his team for "the phenomenal addition to Punjab's capacity to generate solar energy", announcing that the capacity had increased from 9 MW in 2012 to 541 MW this year, and an investment of rs 4,000 crore had, so far, come into this sector in the state. The decision to allot projects of 1-to-2.5-MW capacity to farmers, with a target of generating a total of 500 MW thus, would turn farmers into entrepreneurs, said the deputy CM, adding that 6,000 acres for the purpose had already been registered with Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA) and many farmers had evinced interest in having own mini solar-energy plants.
"For installing these pumps, we can even divert the money being given to the PSPCL as subsidy for free power to the agricultural operations," he said, claiming that would reduce the burden on the thermal power stations as well as the power subsidy quotient in the long run. The state government has, so far, processed 174 solar-energy plant proposals in an average time of 38 days.
Sukhbir projected the state's principal secretary for power, Anirudh Tiwari, as "the one-man window" for solar-energy-sector investors in the state. "Better than the single-window system of the industries department, he is the only man you need to meet for the approval of your projects within 30 days," said Sukhbir, who holds both power and home portfolios.
Renewable energy minister Majithia said Punjab had one of the best solar-energy policies in the country. "We have backed it up with a 25-year purchase agreement with our electricity utility, the PSPCL. The fact that the PSPCL has a good credit rating of B+ also has boosted investor confidence," he said. He added that his ministry had decided to allow mega projects of 50 MW each. "Owing to problems in acquiring large tracts of land in Punjab, entrepreneurs can divide their project over separate tracts," the minister stated.
He counted the 7.5-MW single solar-energy project at Radha Soami Satsang, Beas, as the world's largest in the "rooftop" category that would be extended further to 12.5-MW capacity. "The state had allocated rooftop projects of a further 53 MW," he said.
Using a bit of humour to praise Majithia and Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) chairman KS Popli, who were with him on the dais, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal referred to them as "Solar Sardars", appreciating Majithia especially for his initiative on the clean-energy front in the state.
Ten other people with projects under commissioning were also honoured