New Delhi: To address the issue of land availability for clean energy projects, India will set up solar and wind projects on fallow land along its international border with Pakistan, according to a top government official.

The idea was first mooted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will help tackle the problem of agricultural land being diverted for such projects. Accordingly, a 30km long and 20km wide parcel of land has been identified along the border in Kutch district of Gujarat and stretches along the border in Bikaner, Barmer and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan.

“We are looking at border areas as they offer wasteland, where such projects can be set up," new and renewable energy secretary Anand Kumar said in an interview over the phone.

India is running the world’s most ambitious renewable energy programme, with a target of achieving 175 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2022 as part of its climate commitments. Currently, India generates 82,580 megawatts (MW) of clean energy, or 23% of its total power production.

“Hon’ble Prime Minister has desired that renewable projects be installed along 20km of international border. He also desired that renewable energy be used to generate drinking water in desert areas close to the border.

Accordingly, the Ministry has requested both Rajasthan and Gujarat to identify suitable land near international border (20-25km strip) where solar and wind projects can be installed," according to a government document reviewed by Mint.

As part of its commitments to combat climate change, the government has proposed that state-run companies build massive clean energy parks at a cost of around $2 billion each, with built-in incentives to ensure states and operators are invested in the success of the parks.

The proposed renewable energy power parks of 2,000MW each will help developers achieve economies of scale and further bring down solar and wind power tariffs.

“We should consciously utilize wastelands. Why should good agricultural land be used for setting up such projects?" said another government official, who did not want to be named.

“We have seen that in some areas, agricultural land gets diverted for setting up clean energy projects, which in turn raises the question of food security."

Setting up such strips will further bolster India’s image of a clean energy champion at a time the world is grappling with concerns related to climate change.

“These are desert areas with no habitats. These are large stretches that can be utilized post defence clearances because security is paramount," said the second government official cited earlier.

India’s clean energy sector is going through a crisis. With record low solar and wind power tariffs, banks are wary of lending to developers as they suspect the viability of projects that have agreed to sell power at rock-bottom tariffs.

There are other problems such as delays in payment by state-run power distribution companies that range from two months to 15 months and non-allocation of land-to-wind power projects, as well as transmission- and connectivity-related challenges.

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