According to reports, there is a dazzling field of mirrors that you can find near the vast saltpans of the Little Rann. It is like a sparkling oasis in the desert — much like a gleaming silver screen covering the vast desolate white sand around.
This is Charanka village in Patan, where over 2,965 acres, rows of photovoltaic cells or solar panels have been laid out to harness the sun. They are generating 214 MW of electricity every day—more than China’s 200 MW Golmund Solar park.
The Gujarat government claims that nearly 17 private and state companies have pumped Rs 9,000 crore as investments in this park. Not surprisingly, land prices here have shot up. Former Charanka village sarpanch Barubhai Ahir says that till December 2009, when the project took off, land prices here were Rs 25,000 per acre. “Today just because of the solar park, a 1.5 kilometer periphery around the Charanka solar project would cost Rs 6 lakh per acre.”
Apart from Charanka, solar parks are present across 13 sun-kissed districts and spread over 2,375 acres, most of which is vast stretches of non-arable land. Almost 84 developers have joined hands to construct solar power plants of one to 40 MW capacities in these places.
The handbook also says that Gujarat’s predominance is primarily because it introduced a solar power policy in the state in 2009, even before the introduction of the National Solar Mission (NSM). Also the state’s solar policy has been the only policy in the country which had a fixed tariff, and did not follow the reverse bidding mechanism.
Although the numbers may look good at present, many feel that the state may have rushed to attract solar units by offering a high Rs 15 per unit without looking into the future scenario. Solar plants were established for Rs 12 crore per MW at a time when in just one year — 2011 — the cost of putting a solar power plant came down by 30 per cent.
The government established its own solar power plants at an even higher Rs 16 crore to produce just one MW at the state-run Pandit Deendalayal Petroleum University, and at Rs 17.5 crore atop the Narmada canal. The developers, both national and international, agreed to install power units at such high costs as they knew they would be able to recover the capital in less than eight years. For four years, they would get Rs 15 per unit, all of it nothing but profit. Then, for the next 13 years, they would be paid Rs 5 per unit — at a time when the actual cost of producing solar power comes to just about 15 paise per unit after recovering the capital cost.
Surely not good economics as far as the state is concerned.