November 28, 2009

There's no wind beneath their wings

By Monica Jha, Daily News & Analysis, 28 November 2009

Madakaripura villager Basavaraj’s happiness knew no bounds when huge blades were transported to the top of a nearby hillock in 1997.

It was here in Chitradurga district that Jindal Aluminium installed the district’s first wind turbine generator (WTG).

“They (the company officials) said they would make electricity out of wind. I was proud that they had chosen my village for this project. Hills were cleared to construct roads and vehicles started to move through what once was wilderness.”

But, hopes for a brighter future faded. “Now, the fans are there, the blades are making a racket. The view from my village has changed, but nothing more,” he says. The villagers continue using kerosene lamps at night.

Shivakumar, who resides in Banjagondanahalli village, said, “There is electricity, but the voltage is low; children cannot study in that light. We are still waiting for a concrete road to be built in the village after company vehicles destroyed the village roads.” He added that the only positive outcome could have been that the company paid Rs 6.8 lakh for the construction of a new temple in the village.

The company in question is Suzlon, which set up a wind farm at Banjagondanahalli, in 2007.

In the village Jogimatti— where Suzlon has several turbines – Mallikarjuna is pragmatic, bordering on aloofness, “We have nothing to do with them (the wind energy industry). We don’t have problems with it, but it doesn’t benefit us either.”

The despondent attitude stems from multiple reasons. For one, the projects require skilled manpower for their day-to-day running, which is not available among the locals.

Wind Turbine Generators (WTGs),installed in either revenue or forest lands, leased out by the government. The transfer of rights to use the land happens at a governmental level and the lease runs for 20 years. As private land is largely excluded from these projects, land prices have not seen the expected spike, unless an approach road, used by the company, runs through it so that the company pays a lump sum to the land owners for the right to use the road.

For governmental land, the company pays annual charges of Rs1,000 toRs1,550 per hectare, apart from the net present value of the land, which ranges from Rs 6-8 lakh per hectare in forest land. The company also finances forestation programmes.

The wind energy industry does not generate large-scale perennial employment for the villagers. The industry does not require a large workforce and is run primarily by skilled workers. The unskilled jobs left for the locals are security guards and civil work of a , but at the discretion of the contractors.

Chitradurga does not benefit from the power generated by the turbines. The electricity is sold to the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited (KPTCL) at Rs3.40 per unit. The power generated by each turbine is sent to the pooling station. Each pooling station transmits the power to a local sub-station, which, in turn, is connected to the grid.

But not everyone agrees that the energy companies are mere ‘fair weather’ friends.

Deputy commissioner and district magistrate of Chitradurga, Amalan Aditya Biswas, said, Big companies in the field contribute through the government. They donate computers, books, and sports kits to local schools. Some companies hold medical camps and some have contributed to funds required to conduct the 75th Kannada Sahitya Sammelana. They do it through proper channels in the government and not by paying money
directly to the people.”

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