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Monday, September 20, 1999

Misleading Facts

Girish Sant  
When disadvantaged sections oppose actions by the mainstream, the usual response is to negate, undermine or misrepresent the arguments/objections raised. Sunil Jain's article that appeared in these columns on Sept 6 is an example of this. A few examples:

  • Take the case of CFLs. Author has arrived at a cost of Rs 134 crore per MW saved. Each CFL (that costs about Rs 400) can save 25 to 30 Watt. So, as per him, the replacement of ordinary bulb by CFL would cost Rs 33,500 to 40,000!

  • The author is referring to solar PV technology while quoting cost of Rs 40 crore/MW. These costs are dramatically falling. But no serious literature on alternatives talks about PV as alternative for MW scale plants. While calculating land requirement, one must remember that solar panels are put on the house roofs and do not need separate land allocation. Similarly the land used for windmills can be put for productive use such as grazing.

  • The article also talks about wind power plants drawing more power, duringstartup, from the grid then they generate. But any power engineer would tell him that this is true for most power plants. The lead box of the article omits the words `during startup' and hence implies that windmills are net consumers of energy rather than generators of energy!

  • The article also quotes figures for land required per unit storage area for small and large dams and says this should be the basis of comparison. It is wrong. What matters is the land used per unit of water utilized in fields. The canal systems of large projects routinely loose over half of water during transit. These water delivery systems are highly bureaucratic and unreliable. If these factors were accounted for, the numbers quoted by author would substantially change.

    For over a decade, the advocates of alternative energy planning are saying that all options of energy saving and generation should be compared on equal footing. These should be ranked as per the increasing costs and we should opt for the least cost mix so asto meet our energy demand. I would like to point out the result of Maharashtra least-cost power plan done by us at Prayas (6 yrs ago). The study considered 16 different options of saving and generation (without wind or solar PV). It was seen that a least-cost mix of these options would reduce dependence on large projects by as much as half while reducing the life-cycle costs by one third.

    Probably not understanding these intricacies, as well as technical and economic details; the author ends up advocating business ``as usual'' practices. Such uninformed and biased views not only make injustice to the demands of the dam affected, but also affects the interests of society at large as they create barriers in moving towards a more efficient economy. As per the official figures, country needs to add 8,000 MW power stations each year. If a quarter of this is to be hydel, it implies construction of one SSP and one Maheshar dam combined - each year! Despite such a serious issue, the five year plans do not carryeven estimate of the likely number of affected people or the land required for resettlement, leave aside having a details (and workable) plan to ensure alternative livelihoods for people to be displaced.

    The author is a member of Advisory Committee to Central Electricity Regulatory Commission

    Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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