According to reports, Bengal, a pioneer in developing grid-connected and off-grid solar power, has started losing its prime position. Of the total investment of Rs 16,000 crore in grid-connected solar power projects in the country, West Bengal is lagging far behind with only two projects totalling Rs 70 crore. in grid connected solar energy projects.
Under the remote village electrification programme of the ministry of new and renewable energy, only 6 villages have been electrified in Bengal in last 3 years. The dismal state of affairs for the growth of solar energy in the state becomes stark when compared to Assam (1,017 villages), Orissa (726 villages), Tripura (441 villages) and Madhya Pradesh (327).
According to the 2011 census, in the off grid power sector, about 2.40 lakh households in rural Bengal used solar energy. That was the highest in the country followed by Uttar Pradesh where 1.60 lakh rural households used solar power. But, in last two to three years, the growth percentage in Bengal has dipped.
The recent data, submitted a month back by the Centre ministry of new and renewable energy, on financial assistance for solar projects provided to West Bengal, reveals that allocation for Bengal gradually came down during 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13, from Rs 11.78 crore to Rs 12.47 crore, Rs 8.12 crore and Rs 3.82 crore respectively. The Centre provides such assistance to West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency for various off-grid solar photovoltaic systems and power projects.
The first grid connected 2 MW solar power project was set up in Asansol with an investment of Rs 30 crore. This was the first such project in the country, followed by a 5MW project in Durgapur with an investment of Rs 40 crore. Ironically, no further plans came up after that. Lack of any concrete plan, the share of the state started to fall down while neighbouring states like Chattisgarh, Assam and Bihar went ahead following the Bengal model.
Gujarat, Maharastra and Rajasthan now share 80% of the total 1600 MW of grid connected solar power used in the country now. These states also have the advantage of higher solar radiation compared to the eastern and north eastern states, including Bengal. The other states get more incentive by producing more solar power. Also other states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and even Orrisa got into the scheme by coming up with new renewable energy proposals whereas there is nothing in the pipeline for West Bengal.
Solar expert S P Gon Chaudhuri, who was formerly the advisor to the Bengal government’s power department, said although the state came up with a renewable energy policy, it was but the policies were
not implemented properly. “The growth rate of using solar and renewable energy in the state could have been better,” he added.