With 80 per cent of the country's electricity coming from fossil fuels and nuclear energy, renewable sources of energy such as wind-power are becoming essential. However, it seems that this apparently ‘clean' energy has a few dirty secrets as far as the environment is concerned.
According to statistics available with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), about 1,100 hectares of forest land has been diverted in Maharashtra alone for wind power projects, which is about 31 per cent of the total forest area for such projects in India.
The heavily forested area of Bhimashankar is under threat due to windmills
Around 45 per cent of all wind power projects in Maharashtra are coming up in forested areas, such as near the Koyna and Bhimashankar wildlife sanctuaries and in the Western Ghats, which have been deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. "Wind power projects are growing and the environmental impact is not being attended to.
The impact can be minimised through afforestation and building check dams but it is not being done," said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE. Environmentalists have pointed out that these projects get fast clearances from the Forest Department because they are considered ‘green' projects.
"These projects sometimes get approval by the government in 10 days. Even though it is a clean source of energy, the environmental impact assessment of such projects is not done either by the government or by the private players," Bhushan added.
Echoing Bhushan's stand, Nana Khamkar, Advisory Council Member, Creative Nature Friends, Satara, said, "Earlier, the guideline was that the project should be at a minimum of 1 km away from a sanctuary but the actual distance was substituted with the word ‘safe distance' which can be misconstrued by the companies for their benefit.
I have personally seen that the number of flamingos in Satara have gone down wherever there is a power project. Windmills are like scarecrows, scaring away birds and animals," he added. In a puzzling contrast, energy development officials seem unaware that wind power projects could be depleting forest areas.
"I don't know of any wind power projects in forest areas in Maharashtra," said Manoj Pise, general manager, infrastructure development, Maharashtra Energy Development Agency. The total potential for wind power in Maharashtra is 5,439 MW and stakeholders are keen on tapping it.
Private players have defended the projects saying that the government has imposed various restrictions on them so they do not interfere with the ecology. "Farmers are keen on wind power because it provides them with secondary employment.
According to our experience, the process of acquiring land is lengthy and takes anywhere between one and three years and if the projects are near forested areas, they are shot down at the district level," said Chintan Shah, vice president and head, Strategic Business Development, Suzlon Energy.
"The Central government should make it mandatory for satellite imagery of locations to be studied before consent for acquiring land is given," said Anurag Chaudhary, Chief Conservator of Forest, Forest Department. He admitted that environmental assessments are rarely done.
Environmentalists have also said that local communities should be given the first right to power generated at the wind power plants. "Guidelines need to be implemented and our institutions do not have the wherewithal to do that," Shah added.
Wind out of Sails
Till April 2013, 3107.45 MW wind power capacity, was installed in Maharashtra which is about 15%of the total capacity installed in India
Around 1,100 hectares of forest land has been diverted in Maharashtra alone, about 31%of the total forest area diverted for wind power projects in India
Khed and Mawal talukas, near Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary
• 300,000 trees were felled (They had permission to cut only 26,000). 194.7 hectare of protected forests was cleared. Affected wolves, foxes, peacocks Sakhri Taluka, Dhule district
• A Suzlon project in which 650 wind mill towers have come up. Activists allege 35,000 trees were felled in a few days Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary in Patan and Jawali tehsils of Satara district
• The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, bans infrastructure development and sale or purchase of land within the sanctuary. However, 15 of the Satara's 1,240 windmills lie inside the sanctuary