Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Biggest demo in India for clean energy A thousand say NO to coal in Maharashtra

Biggest demo in India for clean energy

A thousand say NO to coal in MaharashtraOver 1000 residents from villages in the Alibag taluka in Maharashtra gather to take part in a giant human art formation of a windmill, to voice their opposition to coal fired power plants planned in the region. The Maharashtra government is considering plans to approve 10,000 MW of new coal power plants by the Reliance, TATA, ISPAT and Patni groups. 60% of India’s power currently comes from coal, the major cause of climate change. India needs to shift away from a fossil fuel based energy pathway to greener sustainable energy options.

Alibaug Taluka, India — Close to a thousand villagers stood for hours in the formation of a life-size human windmill near Khidki village in Alibag, in what could well be the largest protest for renewable energy in India till date.

They were demanding that the Maharashtra Government drop plans to build 10,000MW coal-fired thermal power plants in the region and explore renewable energy instead. The villagers said they were committed to fight the acquisition of their fertile land for coal-based power plants.

“We believe that the energy planned from these coal plants is dirty. It can come instead from clean alternatives like wind and solar energy, and by using energy more efficiently. We will not give up our land and our future to these mega power plants that will pollute our air, land, and water. We will not allow them to ruin our children’s future by adding to the problem of climate change,” said Dr Vishnu P. Mhatre of the Naugaon Sangharsh Samiti, one of the organisations fighting for clean energy here.

The community is opposing plans to set up thermal power plants over 8,500 acres of fertile land. The companies involved are the Tata Power Company Limited (1,200MW) and the Maharashtra Energy Generation Limited, a Reliance subsidiary, (4,000MW) at Shahpur in Alibag. The Patni group (500MW) and the Ispat group (2,000MW) want to set up their plants in the adjacent Medekhad Khadi.

For more than four years, the villagers have been resisting attempts by the government and the companies to acquire their land. “We do not oppose production of energy. But, we strongly demand that the Government of India change its energy pathway and move towards decentralised renewable energy, which will be used locally for agro-based industries and domestic needs,” said Satish Londhe, a resident of Alibag and state coordinator of the Shramik Mukti Dal.

To prove their solution-oriented approach, the citizens later joined in setting up a wind station. Admiral Ramdas, a Magsaysay awardee and a resident of Alibag, inaugurated the “Citizens’ Wind Monitoring Station” where the residents would record the area’s wind potential through an anemometer. This would show that the region has huge potential for wind energy, and challenge the government’s inaction in investing in alternate energies.

“Policymakers in the central and state governments need to explore the possibility of renewable resources like the wind, the sun, and other agents before rushing to coal for energy. In the current environment of global concern over climate change, we must also look critically at the operational efficiency of our power plants and increase energy efficiency in all sectors. This will ensure a dramatic reduction in our energy demand,” Ramdas asserted.

Maitree Dasgupta, Climate Campaigner with Greenpeace India, said: “This protest is a sign of popular opposition fomenting against coal in India, which will only grow. This not a fight against growth or development. It is just the opposite. It is a fight for building energy infrastructure for the future instead of relying on dinosaur technologies. India can get 35% of its power from renewable energy by 2030. We have the ability and technical capacity; we only need the political will.”

Greenpeace India is demanding that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put in place a National Renewable Energy Bill no later than 2010, which would enable a shift towards a more sustainable energy pathway. This implies that the draft bill be made public this year for debate before placing it for parliamentary approval. It would also provide a framework for the Solar Mission and show that India is serious about the mission. More than 50,000 Indians have already signed Greenpeace India petitions demanding a response on this from Manmohan Singh.

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