National Conclave on Energy and Climate Change
As a part of the civil society initiative to find a lasting solution to the chronic energy situation a National Conclave on Energy and Climate Change was organized by Focus Orissa in Bhubaneshwar on 26-27, March 2011. Civil society groups and individuals from different parts of the country working on related issues such as displacement, denial of access to natural resources, reduced agricultural outputs, environmental degradation etc. came together on this occasion and deliberated on the way forward.
A steering committee has been formed to do all that is possible to come up with a credible energy policy which is people centric, equitable and environmentally sustainable. The major emphasis for this steering committee would be to effectively consult as many civil society groups as possible to ensure that all the major issues of concern to our society are truly addressed. In this regard five working groups to focus on specific areas also were formed. Those who were elected as Steering committee members are Shankar Sharma,Karnataka as Convenor,Ms.Preethi Herman,Bengalure,Sudarshan Chhotoray,Odisha,Madhdhuresh Kumar,Delhi,Walter Mendoza,Maharastra and Chaitany,Hydrabad as Co-Convenors.
Some of the major concerns to our society identified, and which need urgent attention by the government in this concave were:
Ø Despite massive investment and consequent increase in the installed electrical power generating capacity since independence, about 40% of the population has no access to electricity, and huge inequities prevail in the supply of electricity between urban and rural areas. Hence the past practice of blindly increasing the installed capacity of conventional sources will not be in the interest of the society.
Ø The measures such as efficiency improvement, energy conservation and demand side management can provide virtual additional capacity of considerable proportion, which by themselves alone will be able to eliminate the crippling power cuts, and can also meet substantial portion of the additional demand for next 5-10 years.
Ø Being a tropical country, India has huge potential in renewable energy sources, which have much less impact on the environment, and are sustainable and people centric. The energy demand of the rural India should be addressed on a priority basis by deploying such energy sources in decentralized mode.
Ø Applications for additional conventional power projects should be considered only on the basis of objective analysis of costs and benefits to the society, and in doing so the essential needs and sentiments of the affected people should be adequately factored in.
Ø The projected demand of electricity by the successive governments has been vastly exaggerated because of which large number of additional power plants such as coal based, dam based and nuclear power projects are falsely being portrayed as essential; hence the necessary course corrections should be applied to determine the realistic demand for electricity by taking into account all the factors affecting the electricity demand in a transparent manner, and also considering the nature’s limit to support such a demand.
Ø In view of the recent nuclear emergency in Japan, the credible risks to our dense population should be taken into account, because of which all the proposals for nuclear power plants and associated nuclear installations should be dropped, and the safety and real need of even the existing nuclear power plants should be thoroughly reviewed to determine the early time line to mothball them.
The large number of additional coal power plants totaling about 58,000 MW being proposed in Orissa, were a major concern for the participants, who considered them as having huge implications to the society. The conclave was planned in Bhubaneshwar specifically to focus on the deleterious implications of such ill-conceived power projects to Orissa.
The guests who spoke on various sessions were Jagadananda,State Information Commissioner,Soumya Ranjan Patnaik Editor,Sambad,Aurobindo Behera,Secretary, Forest &Environmnet,Pradeep Kumar Jena,Commissioner cum Secretary Energy and IT,Alikishor Patnaik,CPI(M) state secretariat member and Souparno Satpathy etc.
Prominet among the participants were Sripad Dharmadhikari,Madhya Pradesh,Sagardhara,Andhra Pradesh,Bharta Jhunjulwala of Uttarakhand,Walter Mendoza of Maharastra,Preethi Herman of Greenpeace,Madhuresh Kumar of National Alliance of People’s Movement,Chaitany Kumar,Indian Youth Climate Campaign,Sudhir of Kerala and few International speakers also spoke and presented their experiences with people’s movements apart from 100 other delegates.
A dedicated session to discuss these issues w.r.t Orissa was held on 27 March in which the Secretary, energy dept. of Orissa,Mr.Pradeep Jena was one of the chief guests. Whereas many project affected people expressed their concern and anger at the large number of MoUs signed for additional coal power plants without taking the concerned sections of the population into confidence, searching questions were posed by the participants to the Secretary, energy dept. of Orissa on the Orissa power scenario itself.
Energy Secretary admitted that there is a scope to considerably reduce the huge losses prevailing in the sector, with definitive and considerable economic implications.
He was of the opinion that the large number of coal power projects proposed in Orissa, while not essential to meet the local electricity demand, are forced on Orissa due to incorrect policies of the central ministries. But he could not explain as to what is preventing the Orissa govt. to say NO to unscientific and unsustainable exploitation of Orissa’s coal reserve.
He claimed that many initiatives have been launched to reduce the losses, and the substantial amounts of expenditure planned to reduce T&D losses was due to reluctance of the ESCOMs to invest suitably.
He also mentioned that many contractual issues with the private ESCOMs were pending in different judicial bodies; and the possibility of canceling the operational license of these companies due to poor performance was considered, though not found to be desirable due to many legal and economic reasons.
He also elaborated on some of the better R&R practices deployed in Orissa and elsewhere, and was of the firm opinion that suitable and compassionate R&R policy is critical for the welfare of the society.
His elaborate explanations on the Orissa power sector, while appreciated by some participants, could not satisfactorily explain as to why the real costs and benefits of the large number of proposed coal power projects, including the poor R&R track record and looming fresh water crises were not objectively considered.
Though the beneficiaries of these power projects are well known to be the private corporate houses, the true benefits to the locals were seen by the participants as meager as compared to the losses.
Few recommendations were made by the participants to objectively consider the impacts of these projects including the pollution loading, the need for objective costs and benefits to the society, effective participatory decision making etc.
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