New norms aim to make it easier to acquire land for solar parks

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To tackle the problems of acquiring land for solar park projects and keeping costs down, the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) has come out with fresh guidelines that allow state governments to use unproductive and non-agricultural land for the purpose, and emphasize minimum use of private land.

“Land for setting up of solar parks will be identified by state governments unless the implementing agency has its own land. In order to provide for such large tracts of contiguous land with appropriate insolation levels, the state governments may prioritize the use of government waste/non-agricultural land in order to speed up the acquisition process. The use of private land may be minimized,” the guidelines unveiled by MNRE on 5 February said.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had in June 2015 substantially increased India’s solar power target from 20,000 megawatts (MW) to 100,000 MW by 2022. To realize this ambitious goal, MNRE proposed to set up solar parks, each with a capacity of 500 MW and above, targeting around 20,000 MW of installed solar power capacity by 2018-19.

Till 31 January, India’s commissioned solar power stands at 5,248 MW.

A solar park is a concentrated zone of development of solar power generation projects and provides developers an area that comes equipped with infrastructure and access to amenities and where the risks to projects can be minimized.

So far, 27 solar parks in 21 states, with an aggregate capacity of 18,418 MW, have been approved in principle.

MNRE’s nodal agency for solar power projects, Solar Energy Corp. of India, makes funds available to companies developing solar parks under the Union government’s programme. The states identify land for such parks.

“The price of the land is to be kept as low as possible in order to attract developers and, therefore, the site should be selected in such a manner so that inexpensive land can be made available,” the guidelines specified.

“If land cannot be made available in one location, then land in a few locations in close vicinity may be taken. The possibility of using cold and hot deserts, sides of highways can also be actively explored,” it added.

The MNRE guidelines stated that all infrastructural requirements for the parks like connecting roads, provision of water supply, and electricity will be the responsibility of the state governments concerned.

According to MNRE data, the states where land has been identified for solar parks are Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Uttarakhand.

While the government believes large-size projects hold the potential to bring down cost of solar power, making it more attractive to both developers and consumers, in smaller states where there is an acute shortage of non-agricultural land, smaller parks are also being considered.

The guidelines also said that with most solar parks being located in remote areas, their development will lead to people being relocated, with their livelihood getting affected.

“For the upliftment of people and community development, there is need for rehabilitation and resettlement of project-affected people (PAP) with the objective that standards of living of PAP improves or at least remains at the level of their previous standards of living,” the guidelines emphasised.

They also stressed that solar park developers must ensure that all solar photovoltaic modules are disposed of in accordance with electronic-waste rules.