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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2002

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Bengal agency for renewable energy to be upgraded

Our Bureau

KOLKATA, Nov. 11

WEST BENGAL'S apex agency for renewable energy is being spun off into a full-fledged corporate entity called Green Power Corporation.

Power sector sources said that the proposal has received `in principle' nod from the Chief Minister and the corporation is likely to take off with a small equity contribution from the Government.

"The main reason behind this makeover for the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency is the need for greater funds availability,'' sources said, adding that the equity infusion by the cash-strapped State Government would be a token one.

With this change in its structure, WBREDA, which was set up in 1993 as an agency under the State Science and Technology Department will come under the State Power Department.

Sources said that quite a few of the power projects using renewable energy sources, which were promoted by WBREDA, have already gone commercial and the agency is capable of sustaining itself with grants from the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (a body under the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources) and the State Government.

"However, a corporate entity was necessary for future growth,'' they said, since that would enable WBREDA to generate and sell power on its own channelling through the eastern power grid.

Now it has to sell power to the West Bengal State Electricity Board, when it is operating in a grid area. The new corporation could also take up bigger projects of say 25 MW as against the small projects of 2 MW that it now set up. Sources mentioned that as of now WBREDA has accessed funds from the World Bank and the Canadian Government. While a Rs 3-crore line of credit was given by the World Bank for the Sundarbans Islands' solar lighting project the WBREDA received Rs 2.1 crore from ICEF for the wind-diesel hybrid power project. WBREDA has also received funds support for some of its projects from MPs.

Referring to the WBREDA projects that have gone commercial, sources said that the micro-hydel projects of WBREDA have all gone commercial as has the wind power project at Frasergunj in the Sundarbans. The wind-diesel hybrid project, which now has 200 consumers, was Asia's first such project. The recent 2.8 MW rice husk project has also gone commercial and is catching the corporate sector's fancy.

However, more than the promotional projects that it has been associated with, some of which has made it possible to supply power to off-grid areas, WBREDA lists as its major achievement the micro-entrepreneurship that it has been able to foster among the rural youth. Servicing and selling equipment for non-renewable energy projects (mainly solar power), these youths are now engaged in productive activities instead of heading for the cities in search of employment.

West Bengal has a potential for generating around 780 MW of power using non-conventional energy sources, including urban and industrial waste, wind power, biomass, tidal waves and of course solar energy. However, very little of this has been actually tapped as yet, due to infrastructure and fund limitations of WBREDA.

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