Climate of change: Green versus black

Harvesting income from solar farm

Pavagada may be one of India's worst drought-hit regions, but it is also home to the world's largest solar power plant, making apparent India's ambition to become a world leader in renewable energy.
Mr O. Shivanna earns 268,100 rupees (S$5,200) a year from the land that he has leased to KSPDCL. The solar farm has brought in more jobs, bringing back some youth, such as Mr Anand R.A., 26.
Mr O. Shivanna earns 268,100 rupees (S$5,200) a year from the land that he has leased to KSPDCL.ST PHOTO: SAGGERE RADHAKRISHNA
Mr O. Shivanna earns 268,100 rupees (S$5,200) a year from the land that he has leased to KSPDCL. The solar farm has brought in more jobs, bringing back some youth, such as Mr Anand R.A., 26.
The solar farm has brought in more jobs, bringing back some youth, such as Mr Anand R.A., 26.ST PHOTO: SAGGERE RADHAKRISHNA

Every year after sowing his crop of groundnuts, Mr O. Shivanna would gaze at the sky, wondering if the rains would show up on time. But at his home in Karnataka's Tumkur district, they never did.

With no access to other forms of irrigation, farming became unproductive for Mr Shivanna. He said: "I would recover just about the amount I invested to purchase seeds, pay for labour and other inputs. Sometimes, not even that."

In the drought-hit region, farmers say the last time there was enough rain was in 1996.

Things have looked up, however, since the Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation (KSPDCL) leased land from farmers in Pavagada for the world's biggest solar farm. A joint venture deal for the project, named Shakti Sthala, was signed in 2015 and it was launched earlier this year.

Mr Shivanna now earns 268,100 rupees (S$5,200) a year from the 4.8ha of land that he has leased to KSPDCL. "I am happy as I can now send my children to a private school," said the father of two boys. He also works as a security guard at the plant and earns about 12,000 rupees extra per month. He plans to use the money to build a house.

A total of 5,260ha of fallow land has been leased from farmers for 28 years at 21,000 rupees per acre. The rate is increased by 5 per cent every two years.

It is a happy compromise between the farmers and KSPDCL. Mr G. Bhimsha, chief executive of KSPDCL, said: "Acquiring land has always been a big challenge when it comes to developing solar power plants. This lease model can definitely be implemented successfully elsewhere."

 
 
 

In most cases, land is bought from owners for development projects, leaving them with no long-term assured income.

The solar farm has brought in new sources of employment, bringing back some of the district's youth who had moved out for work.

Mr Anand R.A., a 26-year-old security guard, returned from Bengaluru, the state's capital. "I earn 10,000 rupees here, more than what I did in the city," he said. "Because I don't have to spend on rent, I now give my salary to my family. I also get to spend time with my parents."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 25, 2018, with the headline 'Harvesting income from solar farm'. Print Edition | Subscribe