Clean Energy Brings Windfall to Village
Author: Himangshu Watts
In the decade since the first giant power-producing windmill, towering above the palm trees with its whirring 80-foot blades, their lives have changed dramatically.
Incomes have risen and thousands of new jobs have been created as dozens of wind energy producers swarmed the village, the showcase of a $2 billion clean energy program in India, the world's fifth-largest producer of wind energy.
"In 10 years, my daily income has gone up to 450 rupees ($10) from 45 rupees," says Koilpillai Gopal, a barber who has been able to convert his modest roadside kiosk into a glittering shop.
"It is all because of the windmills."
In Muppandal, a hilly region where the wind races in from the Arabian Sea through gaps between the mountains, the price of land for a windmill has soared to $6,620 from about $880 in the early 1990s.
Electricity produced from wind is costlier than gas, thermal or hydro-based units, but subsidies offered by the government through tax breaks, lower import duties on equipment and cheap loans keep prices competitive.
With the subsidies, analysts say, the generation cost varies from 2.25 to 2.75 rupees per unit, or kilowatt-hour, which is slightly more than thermal electricity. Power produced by old hydro-based units costs below one rupee.
The subsidies and a power-starved market have attracted foreign firms such as Danish NEG Micon, the world's third-biggest turbine maker, Germany's Nordex and privately owned Enercon and General Electric's wind unit.
India produces a total of 100,000 megawatts of power, about 12 percent less than total demand.
Nineteen-year old Raju Palavoor, a watchman at a wind farm, pays his college fees with his salary and flaunts a flashy watch - a luxury in many Indian villages.
"Thanks to the windmills, I can become a graduate. One day I can even get a government job," he says.
Wind farms have sprung up all along the 19-mile road from Muppandal to Kanyakumari, a town wedged between the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Muppandal and other areas in the southern state of Tamil Nadu generate about half of India's 2,000 megawatts of wind energy, itself about two percent of India's total power output.
The government expects the sector to expand rapidly and pass its target of adding 5,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2012.
"The outlook is optimistic. India has the potential to generate 45,000 megawatts from wind energy," Ajay Vikram Singh, secretary in the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources, told Reuters.
Clean energy such as wind, biogas and solar energy offer an attractive option for India, which imports 70 percent of its crude oil needs at a cost of more than $17 billion a year.
The Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources estimates a 200-kilowatt wind turbine replacing a thermal power plant will save 120 to 200 tonnes of coal.
And burning that much coal would add two to three tonnes of sulphur dioxide, 1.2 to 2.4 tonnes of nitrogen oxide and 300-500 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
"There is enormous scope for more wind energy projects," said M.P. Ramesh, head of the Center for Wind Energy Technology in Madras.
State-run utilities, the wind farms' main customers, often complain supply is erratic and seasonal and depends on the strength of the wind. But supporters say it is just an attitude problem.
The trade is largely swap-driven, with the utilities drawing power from the farms and giving the owner an equal amount of electricity at their factory elsewhere, or paying a set price if the producer does not have other power needs.