Nurturing the Northeast

Focus on tapping the region’s  vast renewable potential  to improve power supply

State focus: the northeast

The north-eastern region of the country comprising eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura – is blessed with abundant natural resources. The region has roughly 40 per cent of the country’s total hydropower potential along with abundant fossil fuels for thermal power generation. However, the political sensitivity of the region coupled with the inaccessibility of remote areas and unfavourable climate conditions has hampered the development of conventional power infrastructure in the entire region. Moreover, the per capita energy consumption of the region is amongst the lowest in India.

In recent years, various technological advancements have prompted an improvement in the existing infrastructure and development of new power projects, which has partially resolved the power supply situation. The total installed power capacity of the region stands at 5 GW as of May 2018, of which Assam has 1.5 GW and Sikkim has 1 GW, with the remaining 2.5 GW distributed amongst the six other states. The energy supply deficit for the entire north-eastern region was 2.7 per cent for 2017-18, while the peak power deficit was 4.1 per cent. Sikkim had a 0.1 per cent energy supply deficit and no peak power deficit, emerging as the lead performer.

Renewable energy adoption

The region’s geographical constraints make it difficult to develop large thermal projects, and even more difficult to install transmission infrastructure for supplying power to remote locations. Small localised renewable energy-based projects are more feasible in these locations, due to the abundance of resources especially for solar and small-hydro power. In fact, the north-eastern states are slowly moving towards the development of renewables to encourage clean energy, and are becoming more self-reliant in the energy sector.

Realising the huge potential of renewable energy in the Northeast, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is giving special attention to its development in the region’s eight states. To this effect, a separate budget has been allocated for various renewable energy programmes in these states. In fact, 10 per cent of the budgetary support for the deployment of biogas plants, solar systems, remote village electrification, small-hydro projects, wind energy systems and energy parks has been allocated to these states as per the MNRE’s annual report for 2017-18. Corresponding to this, an amount of Rs 680.9 million was released in the past year against the revised estimate of Rs 3,940 million from the gross budgetary support for this region.

Development of solar

Small solar-based units like rooftop solar, stand-alone systems, solar pumps and systems for off-grid applications, which are more practical to develop in these remote locations and can work without grid connectivity, are being more widely installed rather than large ground-mounted solar plants.

Solar rooftop: In  order  to  achieve the rooftop solar target,  the MNRE  is  implementing a grid-connected  rooftop  and small-scale solar power plant programme for the installation of 4.2 GW of rooftop solar capacity across India by 2019-20, with a financial outlay of Rs 50 billion. This scheme provides central financial assistance amounting to 70 per cent of the benchmark project cost for the special category north-eastern states, while achievement-linked incentives are provided for the government sector. To this end, Manipur has notified its solar rooftop policy and most of the states have notified their net metering regulations. The MNRE has sanctioned 60 MWp of such projects in the north-eastern states, of which 30 MWp was sanctioned in 2017-18 (as of December 2017).

Solar Cities programme: Eight cities have been selected for the Solar Cities programme in the Northeast, and master plans have been developed for all of them. Of these, Aizawl and Agartala are being developed as pilot projects, for which a total of Rs 25 million has already been allocated.

Solar lighting: To tackle the issue of widespread kerosene use for lighting purposes, especially in rural areas, the MNRE sanctioned the Solar Study Lamp Scheme in 2017-18, under which solar study lamps would be distributed to school-going children across the selected states including Assam. Similarly, under the Atal Jyoti Yojana Programme, solar LED street lights in rural, semi-urban and urban areas will be installed in the unelectrified areas of Assam.

Focus on small hydro

The north-eastern states have significant small-hydro power potential due to their hilly terrain and ample rainfall. Arunachal Pradesh has the highest potential, followed by Sikkim, Meghalaya and Mizoram. To utilise this optimally, the MNRE has been giving special attention to the region in the form of a higher level of financial support for the development of small-hydro projects.

Policy and regulatory support

Assam, Mizoram and Manipur have been proactive in renewable energy development and have created the necessary policy and regulatory framework to support this. The other states in the region still have a lot to do for large-scale renewable development to be possible.

Assam: The Assam Electricity Regulatory Commission (AERC) has issued draft open access regulations for the year 2018, for all consumers that have a contract demand of 1 MW or more and require open access for the long term (seven years), medium term (five years) and short term. All open access customers will have to install special energy meters for energy accounting and remote terminal units for real-time monitoring. The charges for net metered solar photovoltaic (PV) systems will be in accordance with AERC’s Grid Interactive Solar Photovoltaic Systems Regulations, 2015. The AERC regulations provide for the generation and supply of renewable energy from minigrids (10 kW to 500 kW of installed capacity) and microgrids (up to 10 kW of installed capacity) in the state’s rural areas. The electricity generated from these systems will contribute towards the renewable purchase obligation (RPO) of the state.

Mizoram: The Mizoram government unveiled its Solar Power Policy, 2017, with a target of developing 80 MW of solar projects to meet its RPO of 10.5 per cent by 2022. This includes setting up both rooftop and ground-mounted projects. The policy also offers incentives for decentralised solar power projects. For microgrids of up to 10 kW, the state government will provide Rs 115 per watt. For minigrids of 10-500 kW, an incentive of Rs 99 per watt is offered. In addition, the Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission for Manipur and Mizoram issued draft regulations for a forecasting, scheduling and commercial mechanism for deviation settlement. The regulations apply to all wind and solar power projects connected to the state grid, including those connected through pooling stations and selling power within or outside the state.

Assam at the forefront

Assam has emerged as the leader in the development of renewable energy, with supporting policies and regulations, and a slew of tenders and new projects on the way. Recently, Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) issued tenders for an aggregate 100 MW of grid-connected solar PV capacity in the state. The projects are to be set up under four tenders of 25 MW each in different districts, and the developers have to bid for an entire 25 MW block. The upper tariff ceiling for each tender has been set at Rs 4.48 per kWh. All the projects are to be developed on a build-own-operate basis. APDCL will be the offtaker and enter into a 25-year power purchase agreement with each of the successful bidders. The deadline for the submission of bids was March 4, 2018. Another tender was issued by the Solar Energy Corporation of India for 70 MW of grid-connected solar PV capacity to be developed at the Amguri solar park in Sivasagar, Assam. The capacity was tendered on behalf of Assam Power Generation Corporation Limited (APGCL), and the bid submission deadline was March 14, 2018.

The way forward

Currently, the installed renewable power capacity in the region is quite low, with a share of roughly 7 per cent of the total power capacity. This has been mainly due to the cost concerns and location-related challenges of the region. The situation is now rapidly changing as the cost of solar power has come down significantly in the past two years. There is greater awareness amongst state departments as well as the general public about the adoption of renewables. That being said, customised incentives and support from the central and state governments will be required in order to encourage public as well as private investments in renewable power generation, and bring this region at par with the rest of the country.

By Khushboo Goyal

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