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The chequered journey of biomass plants in Punjab

Government’s MoU with a Chennai-based company to set up 400 biomass plants in Punjab to tackle paddy straw may have sent a cheer among the common man, but experts are not so gung-ho about this initiative.

punjab Updated: Nov 18, 2017 09:48 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
biomass plants in Punjab,biomass plants,Punab biomass
(HT File)

The Punjab government’s memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Chennai-based company to set up 400 biomass plants in the state to tackle paddy straw may have sent a cheer among the common man, but experts in the field are not so gung-ho about this initiative.

It is not the first time that the state has taken the biomass power route to solve the problem of paddy stubble.

In 2006, the then Capt Amarinder government joined hands with Punjab Renewable Energy Systems Private Ltd (PRESPL) to set up the world’s first 100% paddy straw-based biomass power plant at Ghanaur near Patiala on a built-operate-own basis. PRESPL was to set up eight more plants in the next four years, but that never happened.

‘1ST PLANT WAS SUCCESS BUT GAVE NO PROFITS’

Lt Col Monish Ahuja (retd), PRESPL director, who is also chairman of the CII committee on biomass, says the 12-MW plant was a huge success.

Besides the two chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana, even the Pakistan Punjab CM visited it to gain an insight into this farm-friendly technology.

“Due to the silica content in the rice straw, nobody was using 100% paddy straw, but we overcame this snag with some technical interventions,” says Ahuja.

But the plant, he rues, never reaped profits for the company. “The electricity tariff we get is a mere Rs 6.20 per unit, we can’t be financially viable unless we get Rs 8 per unit,” says Ahuja.

The previous Akali-BJP government also made many promises about generating power from biomass when it tied up with Viaton Energy Private Ltd to set up a 10-MW power plant at Khokar Khurd village in Mansa in 2013.

Bikram Singh Majithia, the then minister for non-conventional energy, had promised to set up 29 more biomass power plants with a generation capability of 300 MW.

All praise for such plants for the green energy generated by these, Tejinder Pal Singh Sidhu, who was chief executive officer of Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA) till 2013, says most of the existing plants, including those near Muktsar and Lambi, are doing well.

The initial plan, he says, was to set up 100 such plants to mop up the entire paddy straw. But there were some challenges. “The paddy straw has high silica content, which builds up in the boilers. That’s why these plants use paddy straw with cotton residue or eucalyptus branches in the ratio of 80:20.”

OPERATIONAL PROBLEMS

Tej Pal Singh, general manager of the Viaton plant near Mansa since 2014, says there are many other operational problems. “It’s an unorganised sector. We have to go from farm to farm to collect the straw during the season. Then it is stored and used through the year,” says Singh. The fuel value of the stored straw, he says, decreases with time. The plant also can’t function when it rains.

7 BIOMASS PLANTS GENERATING 62.5 MW

Punjab is home to seven private biomass power plants at Muktsar, Abohar, Malout, Garhshankar, Rajpura, Nakodar and Mansa, which together generate 62.5 MW.

MP Singh, joint director of Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA), says they invited bids for more such plants last year and had received an enthusiastic response for 12 projects with a capacity of 150 MW, but these are still hanging fire as the companies hadn’t been able to sign power purchase agreements with the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL).

BLURB Punjab’s MoU with Chennai-based company to set up 400 biomass power plants to tackle paddy straw may be good news, but experts are not so excited over the initiative

NEW TECHNOLOGY TO PUNJAB’S RESCUE?

RK Verma, chief executive officer of Punjab Bureau of Investment Promotion, who inked the MoU with Neway Engineers MSW Private Limited, said they are banking on a new technology to overcome the stubble crisis. Verma said the three-year-old Chennai-based company had successfully set up a municipal solid waste management plant in Chennai, and was confident of replicating the same model in Punjab. |

“It is a patented waste-to-energy technology, and they will be able to convert the paddy straw into a coal-like product, which they claim is in great demand by a large number of industries, including the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC),” said Verma.

He said the company was also confident of mobilising the capital required to set up 400 plants across the state in the next 10 months. Allaying concerns about partnering with a newbie, he said, “The MoU is just the beginning of a journey, it’s not a commitment. We have not promised any funds. We hope the new technology will be able to help us deal with the problem of paddy straw next year.”

Verma also hoped that given the enormity of the issue, all the stakeholders will work efficiently and quickly to set the project in motion.

First Published: Nov 18, 2017 09:31 IST