As authorities grope in the dark to implement the Solar Energy Policy
“Solar energy offers a clean, eco friendly, abundant and inexhaustible energy resource to mankind. The costs of solar energy have been falling rapidly and entering new areas of competitiveness... Tamil Nadu has reasonably high solar insolation with around 300 clear sunny days in a year," reads the Tamil Nadu Solar Energy Policy (TNSEP) 2012.
The proclamation sounds promising but its implementation on the ground is another matter. The promotion of solar energy is plagued by bottlenecks, including the lack of clarity about whom to approach, price inconsistency, delay in granting subsidies, absence of a mechanism to verify the authenticity of dealers, low awareness of government incentives and so on.
The Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA) is the implementing body for projects conceived by the State government as well as the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). However, TEDA’s website does not contain information as basic as the address and phone number of its Madurai regional office which functions out of a single room at the office of the District Project Officer here.
The office has a skeleton staff of two — one Assistant Engineer and the other of the rank of Junior Assistant. All decisions, from enlisting dealers for the sale of solar products to the implementation of government schemes aimed at promoting renewable energy sources, are taken by officials at TEDA’s headquarters in Chennai.
In order to create authorised distribution points for solar energy products, the MNRE had initiated a programme of establishing shops called ‘Akshay Urja Shops’ in every district for the sale and service of such products.
While TEDA’s website claims that proposals are awaited to establish such a shop in Madurai district, MNRE’s website states that a shop is already functioning here.
According to MNRE, the shop in Madurai is being run by K. Sudhakar at Bethaniyapuram. However, calls made to the mobile number provided by the website are answered by another individual called Joseph, owner of a similar shop at Dindigul.
“With things in such disarray, I don’t know how the government is going to encourage solar power,” wonders K. Ravichandran, a private sector employee.
S. Srinivasan, a retired Assistant Executive Engineer of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (now renamed Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation or TANGEDCO, in short), points out that the TNSEP aims at creating 1000 MW of solar energy by the end of the year.
And to achieve the target, a Solar Purchase Obligation (SPO) has been imposed on High Tension consumers.
As per the SPO, it is mandatory for colleges, residential schools, telecom towers and buildings with a built-up area of more than 20,000 sq.m. to meet at least three per cent of their power requirement from solar energy. The obligation can be fulfilled either by generating captive solar power or by purchasing it from others.
Those generating captive power must install separate meters to measure the quantum of electricity generated.
Similarly, the TNSEP states that domestic consumers of electricity are entitled for Generation Based Incentive (GBI) if they install rooftop solar photovoltaic panels before March 31, 2014.
They would be given an incentive of Rs.2 for every unit generated through solar power for the first two years, Rs.1 per unit for the next two years, and 50 paise per unit for the subsequent two years.
To avail the benefit, it is mandatory to install separate meters for measuring rooftop generation. “I installed solar panels in my house about six months ago but did not receive even a single paisa as incentive to date because the procedures for claiming it are not clear and even TANGEDCO officials are in the dark,” Mr. Srinivasan claims.
Confirming this claim, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board Engineers Association Secretary V. Kumar says that though SPO and GBI have been made mandatory under TNSEP, his employer (TANGEDCO) was yet to take a decision and issue appropriate orders to the field level officers concerned. “So far we have not received any communication in this regard from our higher officials,” he adds.
R.S. Prathaban, manager of a real estate firm here, points out that his firm had erected two solar lights at a cost of Rs. 18,000 each last year under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), a special scheme implemented by MNRE.
“Then, we were told that around Rs. 3,000 would be refunded for each light. But we are yet to receive the money,” he laments.
I. Abdulla Khan, a distributor of solar panels here, says that even the regular subsidy of 30 per cent provided by MNRE for erecting solar panels that can generate 1 kw of electricity and a fixed subsidy of Rs. 20,000 provided by the State government for similar panels are not being disbursed on time making it difficult for small-time distributors like him to promote solar energy.
The subsidies provided by the Centre as well as the State are not disbursed directly to the consumers. Instead, they are given only to dealers who are enlisted with TEDA and for getting enlisted every trader has to deposit at least Rs. 50,000. “Small-time distributors like me do not find any benefit in getting enlisted as the subsidies are not disbursed properly.
“There is also no uniformity in the market with regard to the price of solar panels. Normally, it would cost about Rs. 1.35 lakh to install a 1 kw facility. After government subsidies, it should cost the consumer only around Rs. 90,000. But many small-time dealers quote inflated prices such as Rs. 1.85 lakh and then deduct the subsidy amount to sell their products at Rs. 1.3 lakh,” he claims.
S. Janakiraman, Territory Manager (Sales) of a Bangalore-based solar products company, says that the announcement of subsidies was actually acting more as a deterrent than a stimulus for promotion of solar products. “People are madly after subsidies which do not come by and that drives the dealers to quote exorbitant rates and provide fictitious subsidies,” he adds.
Efforts made to contact TEDA chairman Sudeep Jain and Deputy General Manager (solar division) W. Duke Christopher Daniel met with no success as both of them were away in New Delhi.