Karnataka

Pavagada solar park: The dark side of a shining story

The piles of waste generated from the solar park in Pavagada taluk of Tumakuru district; (below) A view of the solar panels.  

Karnataka has been hailed as a stalwart in solar power generation in the country. Much of this has been credited to the Pavagada solar park in Tumakuru. But, is there a dark side to this shining story?

Environment and farmer welfare organisations have flagged multiple concerns about the project. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Shakthi Sthala Raithara Kshemabhivruddhi Sangha submitted a memorandum to the State government bringing to its notice the pollution from discarded parts of the solar project.

The sangha demanded the establishment of a recycling unit at the solar park.

“A lot of waste is generated during the installation of solar panels. And panels that are damaged are just thrown out, and disposed of in a scientific manner. Some companies bury the waste, some burn them, both of which pollute the environment. The solar panels consist of heavy metals like mercury, lead, zinc, and cadmium. When buried in the ground, they can contaminate soil, waterbodies, and if burnt, they contaminate the air,” alleged D. Paramesh Naik, convenor of the sangha.

Piles of waste generated from the solar park in Pavagada taluk of Tumakuru district; (below) The solar panels.

Piles of waste generated from the solar park in Pavagada taluk of Tumakuru district; (below) The solar panels.  

 

The organisation also demanded that the government develop a green belt in the area surrounding the solar park claiming that the temperature of the five villages where the park is established is higher due to the reflection of light by the solar panels.

‘Veritable sea of glass’

An Environment Support Group (ESG) case study on the ‘Socio-ecological and economic implications of transitioning to utility scale solar power projects - The Pavagada Solar Park’ also highlighted several issues. The case study was part of ESG’s notes for the ‘India Workshop of Governance of Socio Technical Transformation Project’.

The park, touted to be the world’s largest utility scale solar power farm, is spread over 13,000 acres. These villages, once bustling with a variety of agricultural, pastoral, artisanal activity, typical of any village in India, today resemble “a veritable sea of glass”, the study says.

“This phenomenal transformation was made possible through a very persuasive method of making private and commons land in these villages available for the project. Farmer after farmer, and at times entire villages, were persuaded by the Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Ltd. (KSPDCL) to enter into a 28-year lease agreement to part with their land, and in return, earn lease rent of ₹21,000 per acre a year, with a 5% increase in rent every year. The rationalisation of benefits of parting with land was that farms had turned unproductive due to drought and failing farming systems. Hence, it was in the best interest of farmers to lease their land to a ‘climate-friendly’ project for a regular and secure income,” said the authors in the study, adding that in this manner, lands have been “re-engineered,”, removing all greenery and levelling the land’s features.

ESG also alleged that almost everyone they spoke to in the affected villages report that were not given a complete picture of what leasing their land to KSPDCL meant. Speaking about the loss of access to their land, the case study refers to women in the Dalit colony clearly set apart from the main Nagalamadike village sharing how they now have to walk long distances to fetch water and firewood, and how some others had to sell their sheep because there was no space for them to graze.

President of Pavagada Taluk Raitha Sangha, G. Narasimha Reddy, told The Hindu that the solar park helped only big farmers who have more than 25 acres of land. “It has not helped marginal and small farmers. Though they may get a small amount annually, it is not sufficient. The government should conduct an aerial survey and fix the boundaries of 13,000 acres of land of 2,300 farmers of five villages in Pavagada taluk. Now, the owner himself is unable to identify his land,” he said. He also alleged that though local youths were promised jobs, they do not have the technical education required for the posts.

A farmer, who did not want to be named, expressed worry about the soil quality after the 28-year lease period. “I have 50 acres and a lot of concrete columns, iron material and other metal objects are on it now. I am afraid it will contaminate my land. I am worried that I may not be able to grow anything after the lease period,” he said.

About the future of solar energy in India and what it entails, the ESG study says: “The National Solar Mission is frenetically pushing ahead in meeting the targets...on the assumption that solar park development is a good thing going for India. India today has an installed capacity of about 35 GW from solar plants. Close to half of this is produced from Karnataka. The implications of achieving the target of 450 GW of solar production by the target year of 2022, can be imagined,” it concludes.

‘False allegations’

When contacted, K.J. Nagaraju, CEO, KSPDCL, denied the allegations of unscientific disposal of waste.

“This is false information and we have not received any such complaint. A small percentage of panels may be defective but they are safely stacked away in closed places,” he said.

About the diminishing greenery, he maintained that compensatory afforestation activities had already been taken up, and added that even last year, there were no crops growing in the areas as it was not conducive for agriculture.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 2:15:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/pavagada-solar-park-the-dark-side-of-a-shining-story/article31836507.ece

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