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Telcos to govt: Give subsidies, else forget ‘Green Towers’

According to reports, telecom operators have told the government that they will not be able to achieve the target for 2015 on using renewable energy in cellular towers unless they are provided subsidy or viability funding.

At an inter-ministerial meeting with the telecom department, the operators said it would cost about Rs 33,000 crore to comply with the directive to run 50% of towers in rural areas and 20% in urban areas on hybrid power by 2015.

According to the telecom department, this combination of renewable energy and grid power will help reduce carbon emission by at least 8% compared with the base year of 2011. A member of the Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association who attended the meeting said the operators called the cost of harnessing green power “prohibitive”.

“This process will require government incentives during the gestation period until economies of scale are achieved that bring down the industry’s capital expenditure to shift to renewable energy ,” said Umang Das, director of the association and chief mentor of Viom Networks.

Das added that as per the industry’s estimates, the government needs to provide subsidies worth Rs 2,000 crore to renewable energy companies gearing up for generating clean energy for the telecom sector.

Just 4,000 of the 400,000 telecom towers in the country run on hybrid power solution of diesel with solar back-up facility, the association said. Telecom regulator Trai had said in a report last year that telecom towers running on diesel spewed out nearly 10 million tonne of carbon emissions.

Each of the four lakh towers consumed an average of 8,760 litres of diesel every year, assuming that diesel generator sets powered the towers for at least eight hours a day. Thereafter, the regulator recommended the green telecommunications programme , which was accepted by the government.

In a pilot done jointly with the ministry of new and renewable energy in 2011 by BSNL, Airtel, Indus Towers and GTL, solar power systems were installed at 100 towers of each operator. But there hasn’t been any major progress apart from the pilot programme. While the staterun BSNL has shrugged off the directive as “commercially unviable”, private players such as Vodafone and Bharti Infratel have tried to do some significant work in this direction.

“There is no business case for us to run our towers on renewable energy or install solar panels,” said RK Upadhayay, chairman and managing director of BSNL.  

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