Solar Developers Trip Up Over Great Indian Bustard Habitat in Rajasthan

Solar Developers Trip Up Over Great Indian Bustard Habitat in Rajasthan NEXTracker’s 30MW CleanMax site in Tamil Nadu

Solar developers that made a beeline for Rajasthan, India’s largest state by area with a seemingly plentiful supply of non-agricultural land with high solar irradiance, have been served a shock by the Supreme Court.

The court was hearing a case related to the impact on the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard, a critically endangered large bird, whose numbers have dwindled to less than 150 by some estimates. Keeping in mind the need to preserve the habitat of the bird, the court has ordered that power lines in the region be shifted underground, as electrocution was one of the reasons cited for the bird’s unnatural deaths.

The order potentially impacts projects by most of the top solar developers in the country, as they had all hoped to set up large projects in the dry region.

The supreme court order is not the only time land issues have dogged projects in the region. Earlier too, an Adani project  for almost 2000 MW was challenged with villagers claiming improper land categorisation to enable the project. The MNRE too, in an order in 2019 had asked  for retrofitting transmission lines and wind turbines with diverters and other such means to avid bird hits.

It is worth noting that the environment ministry had exempted solar projects from any environment clearances, a move that came under the lens, considering the impact many environmentalists believe large solar parks can have n their environment. This was also inked to the categorisation of grasslands as waste lands fit for solar parks, a move criticised for ignoring the ecosystem that survives on these seeming ‘waste lands’ too.

While the SC will find an appeal from the Solar Power Developer’s Association and other bodies in front of it soon, the fact remains that  finding the right combination of land, grid accessibility and low costs for large solar parks is becoming a much bigger challenge than anyone expected, for India’s solar developers. Estimates of the order impact, if followed have been made at between Rs 18,000 to Rs 25,000 crores by developers, a cost that will push overall power costs higher by 20 percent. That’s a huge sum, especially when seen in the context of Rs 33 crores, that was all the environment ministry could spare for an initiative to save the rare bird last year.

Some of the largest solar power projects planned, be it the 7.5 GW Leh-Ladakh project, the 30 GW Kutch project, or Rajasthan’s own 10 GW projects  have all been dogged by such issues.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International