Ladakh’s long wait for solar power unlikely to end soon
In his first budget after the BJP came to power in 2014, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley allocated ₹500 crore for ultra-mega solar projects across the country, including one in Ladakh. This brought smiles to Ladakhis because it would have been a transformative investment in the region.
The then Joint Secretary in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) had told businessline that Ladakh would have 7.5GW of solar projects.
Ladakh, a 60,000 sq km region of the Himalayas, with a population of 1.34 lakh people, is a vast, barren region of hills and valleys with very little vegetation. But it is the best region for putting up solar photovoltaic power projects, because of exceptionally good sunshine, practically no heat and dust-free atmosphere.
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Since Ladakh would use a very little part of the solar energy for itself—not more than 100 MW—it was believed that the revenue from sales of electricity to other states would be enough to power the region’s economy.
Nearly a decade down the line, not a single MW of solar plant has come up; nor there is any likelihood of anything happening anytime soon.
Nawang Thinless is an old hand at renewable energy in Ladakh, who runs the Himalayan Renewable Energy and Construction Firm in Leh, the capital of Ladakh; he recently won a “Business Leader of the year 2022” award, given by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Dubai. He is also the project coordinator for a pilot, 1 MW geothermal project being put up by ONGC.
Nawang told businessline that in recent years, there has been some gingering-up of activity. The Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) has completed a survey for laying transmission lines. On the cards is a 765 kV line from Kaithal in Haryana to Spang, Ladakh. Spang is one of the two sites identified for solar projects. Another PGCIL survey has been done for a 220 kV line from Spang to Leh—about 140 km.
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He also said that earlier there had been some issues in acquiring lands, but acquisition has since been completed. Between Spang and Zara Dho, 10GW of solar PV plants would come up. The government company, SECI, which is mandated to develop renewable energy projects in India, would come up with tenders for the Ladakh solar projects, Thinless said.
However, a SECI official, who requested not to be named, told businessline that solar tenders for Ladakh were many years away. He said that things were still at “preliminary stages”.
Bikram Singh, Group General Manager with the public sector energy company, NHPC Ltd, who is in charge of the Nimoo Bazgo plant on the Indus River, some 65 km from Leh, told businessline. He noted that NHPC knows the region well and can put up and operate solar plants in Ladakh.
Last year, Tata Power Solar bagged a job for putting up a 50MW solar plant, co-located with a 50MWhr battery storage system. Sources in Ladakh have said that there has been no progress on the project. Tata Power has not responded to businessline’s request for confirmation.
However, all this is not to say that ‘solar power’ has not touched Ladakh at all. Hundreds, if not thousands, of houses and streets have little blue solar panels providing energy. A lot of Ladakh’s population is scattered all over the region, and many lead nomadic lives. Many live in ramshackle, make-shift dwelling units, but each festooned with a sparkling solar panel.
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