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Experts slam subsidy, laud solar focus

According to reports, critics have called CM Arvind Kejriwal’s power subsidy “populist” and “economically unsound”. But there may be some good in what seems like his government’s hurried announcements. Energy experts are excited about what the future may bring given AAP’s intention of using solar energy in a big way.

Thumbs are up for this as well as the audit of discoms though not for the 50% power subsidy. While some prefer AAP meeting Delhi’s power crisis in a more efficient manner, everyone agrees AAP has taken a step in the right direction by clarifying that the power subsidy is short-term.

“Audit of power companies will help us know the exact price of power. But I don’t think a 50% subsidy for consumption up to 400 units is a good idea. It should’ve been targeted. The poor and well-heeled are benefiting equally. I feel Kejriwal should have invested in subsidizing energy-efficient appliances for households and in renewable energy,” says Chandra Bhushan of Centre for Science and Environment.

While he worries that a sop once announced might be difficult to withdraw, Bhushan hopes Kejriwal has planned for more efficient use of power in future. “It’s good they want to meet 20% of Delhi’s power needs with solar energy in 10 years but it will require a lot of money. Money is limited and planning has to be judicious,” he says.

One of the key measures that AAP government can take up is to quickly finalize Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission’s net metering proposal released last week and then help large consumers set up solar rooftop systems to offset the load on the grid. Delhi government’s environment department already has a draft solar policy in place. Opinion is divided on whether solar rooftops should be subsidized in Delhi.

“Due to sharp decline in solar prices, such projects already make economic sense to consumers (mainly commercial and high-end residential) with high electricity use and high tariff. The policy should focus on removal of procedural hurdles and other barriers in deploying RTPV systems,” suggests Ashwin Gambhir of Prayas Energy Group.

But he, too, is against subsidization. Solar Energy Corporation of India has already started a rooftop PV project. Each watt currently costs Rs 87-90 which means about Rs 90,000 per KW. A small household can run on 2KW but solar rooftops must be implemented for large buildings and establishments to achieve economies of scale.

Abhishek Pratap of Greenpeace India, however, feels the government should subsidize solar rooftops in Delhi to encourage more people to go for it. “The ministry of new and renewable energy already gives a 30% subsidy on solar rooftops. If AAP can add a 10-20% subsidy on panels and batteries, it may push consumers to opt for it as the cost falls dramatically. All this, however, should be done after the discom audit is over and a decision is taken on whether they will continue the current 50% subsidy on conventional power,” he says. The government should consider making solar a “priority lending sector” and banks should also offer soft loans, Pratap suggests.

Though much depends on the audit, all agree that the three months CAG will take to conduct it should be spent developing a robust renewable energy and energy efficiency plan.

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