Wind energy and small hydro power can exert severe environmental impacts
India needs better green energy norms to offset these impacts
“Green energy” is not necessarily green, and small hydro power is not really for small people with small needs – said Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) director general Sunita Narain at a conference on ‘Green Norms for Green Energy’, organized by CSE. The conference, which focused on the wind and small hydro sectors, brought together different stakeholders to discuss environmental impacts of these sectors and modes of monitoring and regulating them.
Speaking on the occasion, CSE deputy director general Chandra Bhushan pointed out that renewable energy projects can be resource-intensive -- 1 megawatt (MW) of solar power needs 2.5-3 hectares (ha) of land. This raises concerns of land acquisition, impact on local ecology if the land area is large and in eco-sensitive areas, and issues of waste disposal. With the 23 per cent annual growth rate since March 2002, grid-connected renewable energy has substantial potential of affecting environment.
Referring to the scale of small hydro power (SHP) sector, Narain said: “On an average, Rs 150 crore is disbursed towards SHP subsidy and in 2012-13, 14 per cent of the Union ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) budget allocation went to SHP capital subsidy.”
Narain also highlighted the plight of the Ganga -- 70 hydropower projects with a capacity of 9,580.3 MW have “affected” 60-80 per cent of the river, without taking into consideration the river’s ecological flow (e-flow). This leaves large stretches of the river dry, affecting the aquatic flora and fauna, water quality, sediment carrying capacity, erosion, groundwater quality and recharge, climate, soil and geology. It also interferes with drinking and agricultural water availability.
In India, there has been a tendency to bifurcate large hydro power projects artificially into SHPs to get fiscal benefits and to avoid the environmental and forest clearance norms. The conference concluded that there really is no difference between large and small hydro power projects as far as ecological impacts are concerned. Hence, environmental and social impact assessment should be mandated for SHPs.
It also recommended the need for nationwide norms on ecological flow and on the distance between two hydro power projects, including the percentage of river that can be disturbed.
Wind power projects, currently not covered under the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA ) notification, exert multiple adverse impacts on environment. Construction of roads and transmission lines for these projects can have impacts on wildlife and local ecology, such as erosion, loss of habitat, and accidents involving birds and bats.
There was a consensus that based on detailed studies, there should be go/no-go areas for wind power plants and that wind power should not be allowed in ecologically sensitive areas. Also recommended were a benefit sharing system and No-objection Certificates (NOCs) from gram panchayats. Narain added that right to energy is more important than cash for local communities and there is an urgent need for policy correction as well as stringent implementation of the existing policies.