Switching to solar power is a harrowing experience in Puducherry, say residents

According to those who have opted for the renewable energy by way of rooftop plants, the Puducherry Electricity Department’s cumbersome bureaucratic procedures is a major hurdle. In addition, they say the billing system used in the U.T. is shoddy and does not account for exported power

October 01, 2023 07:17 pm | Updated 07:17 pm IST - PUDUCHERRY

A rooftop solar plant installed on the terrace of a house in Puducherry.

A rooftop solar plant installed on the terrace of a house in Puducherry. | Photo Credit: S.S. KUMAR

Several residents, who have opted for renewable energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and save money on their monthly power bills, are upset over the “tardy” implementation of the rooftop solar project in Puducherry.

It was in March 2016 that the Puducherry government unveiled its ambitious solar energy policy with the vision that solar energy would be the mainstream energy source in the Union Territory by 2025, and Puducherry would achieve or exceed the solar energy portfolio obligations, as may be determined by the Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission (JERC). 

However, seven years later, the government’s Solar Energy Policy, like many of its other ambitious initiatives, including Smart City and Solar City, remains only on paper and very little progress has been made. Many residents who had invested substantial amounts of money to switch over to solar energy are now dissuading others from doing the same as a result of the Puducherry Electricity Department’s (PED) cumbersome bureaucratic procedures with regard to rooftop solar systems. 

This includes inordinate delays in the processing of applications, discrepancies in billing, and not adjusting exported power from the prosumers (consumers who are also producers of solar power) under the net metering scheme.

A resident, under anonymity, pointed out that he decided to opt for a rooftop solar plant for his house at a substantial investment. “However, the enthusiasm was short-lived as the utterly frustrating bureaucratic procedures in getting permission unnecessarily delayed the whole project even though I had not asked for any government subsidy.”

He added, “I am not getting electricity bills in which the exported solar energy is credited to arrive at the net energy bill. Every month, I have to go to the PED office to show the readings to get the bill corrected. This has now been going on for more than a year and is utterly frustrating. Even though the Solar Energy Policy was gazetted in March 2016, the PED has yet to make changes in their billing software for automatic implementation of the net metering mechanism.”

“In fact, we have had to discourage our neighbours who were looking forward to investing in solar plants, narrating to them the harrowing experience and bureaucratic delays. It is imperative that prosumers automatically get proper net metered bills with all details clearly stated as done in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. Only then will people be interested in installing rooftop solar systems,” he added.

According to a local businessman: “The billing system is shoddy and there is no transparency or clarity. I am not sure of having benefited monetarily after an investment of more than ₹5 lakh.”

“The monthly bills also do not reflect any drastic reduction in our electricity consumption though we have 22 panels installed on our rooftop. Though smart meters have been installed, personnel from the PED have to visit the site to ascertain the meter reading. This inefficient real-time lag causes an anomaly in the amount billed every month,” he said. 

Several adopters say the reality is very different from what is stated in the policy and related regulations. “Though smart meters have been installed to collect electricity export and import details on a real-time basis, the billing software only allows the registration of the amount of electricity imported by the prosumer and not what is exported,” said another resident. 

“As a result, even when a prosumer has exported excess solar electricity to the PED, he is asked to pay a hefty sum only based on the amount of electricity imported from the PED. When a complaint is raised, the bill is revised manually and the method of calculation is not shared,” he said.

It took only a few days for a consumer to get a home rooftop solar PV system installed by a qualified installer, and the PED should thereafter not take more than 15 days to replace the meter (if required) and effect net metering, said another resident.

A voluntary organisation which opted to install a rooftop solar plant had a harrowing experience. Though the old meter was disconnected, the organisation continued to pay power bills for the next four months. “Even after the installation of solar panels, there was a huge difference between the meter reading and exact power consumption,” a staff member of the organisation said. 

“Many consumers have faced a delay of several months and the agony of following up with the officials in different departments to complete the process. Though consumers are asked to sign a net metering connection agreement, they do not receive the countersigned agreement despite waiting for over a year.”

“While the JERC had laid out a clear mechanism for billing, energy accounting, and settlement, many prosumers feel constantly harassed due to the department’s faulty and archaic billing system,” said a resident, who was one of the first to adopt rooftop solar net metering.

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