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Gujarat solar cooperative: Model for generating additional farm income, conserving ground water, says experts
Farmers of India’s first solar cooperative set up in Dhundi village of Kheda district of Gujarat received their initial payments for harvesting solar power on their farms, Monday, as experts put forth this experimental cooperative model as a effective solution for providing farmers with an additional income and conserving ground water.
Describing the solar cooperative, Dhundi Saur Urja Utpadak Sahakari Mandali, as a beginning of an “orange revolution” in a region that gave the country it’s first milk cooperative RS Sodhi, managing director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Limited (GCMMF) said, “If the income of farmers have to be doubled as envisaged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then this is one of the steps towards achieving it. The region that gave India its White Revolution is now inspiring an Orange Revolution powered by solar farmers.”
In a small ceremony held at Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA), Sodhi presented a cheque of Rs 36,005 as the first payment to six farmers of the solar cooperative for generating 5097 units of solar power on their respective farms for a period of 80-odd days since May 10, 2016. These farmers own solar-powered irrigation pumps that is connected to the power grid. So when they are not irrigating their farms, the power gets diverted to the grid.
The payment contained, Rs 4.63 that state discom Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (MGVCL) paid to the cooperative for every unit of power generated, and an additional bonus of Rs 2.50 (per unit) for “water conservation” and “green energy”, paid by IWMI-Tata Water Policy Program.
“The National Solar Mission aims at reaching 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022 and mentions two major paths for doing so: Rooftop Solar Systems and MW-scale solar power plants. We have been arguing that solaring agriculture is better that both of these ways. Since commercial and domestic sector are profitable segments for power utilities, reducing power sales to them will affect the financial health of already indebted power utilities. Instead, solarising the highly subsidized farm power sector will improve utilities finances, put additional income in the hands of farmers and conserve ground water,” says Tushaar Shah, a veteran water management expert from Colombo-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI) said on the occasion.
Experts pointed out that with state governments like Gujarat providing 95 percent subsidy to farmers to install solar water irrigation pumps, farmers in the near future might end up overdrawing water using freely available power and destroy existing ground-water aquifers. “Another advantage of this model is the minimal land footprint since farmers can continue to use land under solar panels to grow crops,” Shah added about the project that is being run at Dhundi with support from IWMI and CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.
However, as the farmers are being paid low remuneration under this model, all of them have started selling water to the nearby farmers. This fetches them at least three times more money than what they earn from selling power. “They do so because they earn Rs 12 per unit, if they sell water to nearby farmers. This is definitely more than the what they earn by selling power. These farmers have been given one of the lowest rates under the PPA signed with MGVCL. It is for the state government to come forward and provide about Rs 7.5 per unit of solar power. This will not only stop farmers from overdrawing groundwater, but will also encourage more farmers to join the solar cooperative,” he added.