In a move that could benefit as many as 3,000 odd Agariyas or salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, the state government has paved way for them to sell solar generated power directly to state power utility during off-season.
The Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC), the state electricity regulator, has recently permitted the state power discom Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd to procure power from solar panels of Agariyas of Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA) during the off-season period when the capacities remain unutilized.
“This is a very innovative move that will be lead by women. A solar park is planned in LRK where during off season the Agariyas will set up their panels to generate about 2.7 MW power to be supplied to GUVNL. It will create extra income for the Agariyas. Selling power to state discoms will make it easy for the Agariyas to get finance from banks," said Reemaben Nanavaty, head of SEWA.
An impoverished and marginalized community, the Agariyas have traditionally been the main salt producers of Gujarat. This is for the first time that a power company is buying power directly from salt pan workers.
The LRK has dual characteristics—that of a wetland and a desert. From May to September, the entire desert gets submerged with rainwater as well as sea-water due to ingression, bringing a grinding halt to all salt-making activities here.
SEWA has floated a special purpose vehicle called Grassroot Trading Network for Women (GTNfW), a non-profit company registered under the Indian Companies Act, 1956, to install solar powered pumps in the desert.
This clean energy option, away from the grid-connected electricity, is however providing a breakthrough for hundreds of impoverished Agariyas in LRK, giving them better livelihood.
Gujarat produces about 70% of the country’s inland salt and the LRK is considered the world’s largest location for producing inland salt.
The process in the LRK involves using diesel pumps to draw brine out of the ground, and spread it in salt pans to enable the sun to evaporate the water and produce salt. Using solar helps replacing costly diesel and this in turn reduces production cost by almost one-third. Also using solar reduces other costs including wear and tear and cost of lubricants for diesel pumps.
According to GUVNL’s petition, there are about 3,000 salt pan workers having solar panels with an aggregate capacity of 2.7 MW.
GERC in its order said that it approved GUVNL’s petition as a special case keeping in mind the socio-economic upliftment of salt pan workers.
The commission in an earlier order had directed the discoms to procure power from the renewable energy sources by following the competitive bidding process as per Section-63 of the Electricity Act, 2003.
The guidelines issued by the Union ministry of power, for procurement of power from the solar power projects dated 3 August, 2017 stipulates 50 megawatts as the minimum quantum of bid by the bidder for supply of power from its plant.
GUVNL, who had conducted the competitive bidding process for procurement of power, had also stipulated minimum capacity for participating in the bidding process as 25 MW.
As the capacity of the solar power plant of the GTNfW is 2.7 MW only, they do not qualify to participate in the bidding process, GERC said in its order.
“The Solar Power Project is mainly for utilisation of energy generated from it for running the water pumps for production of salt in the Little Rann of Kutch, the sale of power to the GUVNL will only be during off season period to optimize the utilisation of the panels and generate some revenue for the economic up-liftment of the Salt pan Workers of SEWA which will be helpful from the socio-economic aspect also," GERC said in its order.