Wind power, seen as a green energy source, can exert substantial impacts on the ecology, says a report released by the New Delhi-based research and advocacy body, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The report has documented the environmental impacts of wind power in many parts of the country, including Maharashtra.
“Our conclusion is that if a wind power project is set up close to human settlements, it may cause significant health impacts. We also find that projects sited on forest land and hilly areas exert higher impacts on the ecology and water resources, compared to projects located in the plains,” says Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s deputy director general.
Wind power has grown rapidly in the country in the last 10 years. By the end of March 2013, the installed capacity of wind power in India was 19,051 megawatt (MW) – fifth largest in the world. In terms of capacity, wind power is now the third largest source of electricity in India after coal and hydropower. The total wind power generation in 2011-12 was 23,400 gigawatt hour (GWh). This is higher than the power produced by all the nuclear reactors in the country.
The 12th Five Year Plan aims to install 15,000 MW between 2012 and 2017, which will almost double the total capacity of wind power. Assuming an average wind turbine capacity of 1.5 MW, this means a total of 10,000 new turbines will be installed in the next five years in the country. To manage the environmental fallouts of such rapid growth, better environmental norms are the need of the hour, says the report.
At present, most of the installed wind power in India is concentrated in two regions — the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and the western states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Tamil Nadu alone has about 40 per cent of the country’s total wind capacity. However, due to the lack of sufficient grid capacity to evacuate power in Tamil Nadu, wind developers are now moving to states like Karnataka and Maharashtra. Most importantly, wind developers are setting up projects in forest areas in these two states.
Ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) data since 1980 reveals that 3,932 hectares (ha) of forestland have been diverted for wind power -- this is excluding the forestland diverted for roads and transmission lines to and from wind power project sites. About 88 per cent of total forestland diverted for wind projects has taken place in Karnataka (57 per cent) and Maharashtra (31 per cent).
The demand for forestland by the wind power industry has increased rapidly in the last seven years, finds the CSE study. Between April 2006 and March 2013, 3,454 ha of forestland have been diverted for wind power projects. During the previous 26 years (1980-March 2006), only 478 ha of forestland were diverted for wind projects.
Most importantly, CSE’s analysis shows that forestland has been diverted, including in ecologically sensitive areas like wildlife sanctuaries, without any environmental impact assessment studies. CSE’s study of all wind projects shows that the time taken for in-principle clearance of wind power projects in many cases is less than a month – with the lowest being 10 days. The median time taken until final approval of forest clearance for wind projects was 7.5 months. “No proper environmental assessment can be done in such short a period. Therefore, most forest land is being diverted without understanding the impact of wind project on forest ecology,” says Chandra Bhushan.
The CSE study has documented global best practices in environment regulations for the wind power sector. “India is the only country in the world with sizeable wind power installations but very little green norms to manage its environmental fallouts,” says Kanchan Kumar Agarwal, researcher, CSE.
Even for large wind power projects of more than 100 MW, no environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies are required. Similarly, most SPCBs don’t even ask wind power projects to apply for ‘consent to operate’ and therefore, do not regulate oil and noise pollution from these establishments. Says Chandra Bhushan: “It is only in the last few years that researchers in India have begun to document the ecological impacts of wind power. The fact is that environmental impacts of wind power – on wildlife, on water resources and on forest ecology – are still not recognized as a serious issue within the regulatory agencies or the industry. This must change if we want sustainable development of the sector.”
The way ahead
The CSE report lays out detailed recommendations based on global best practices. According to CSE experts, India must adopt strict green norms for sustainable growth of the wind power sector. The recommendations include: