State gets first green power plant

Hindustan Times 2008-12-12, Kolkata

When US-based Indian company Astonfield Renewable Resources Limited (ARRL) signs a power purchase agreement (PPA) with West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Corporate Limited (WBEDCL), it would be for the first private green power plant company to supply power directly to consumers.

Astonfield, with US-based former Wall Street banker Sourabh Sen as co-chairman, will start generating power at its 5 MW solar power plant in Bankura by October 2009. "We want this to be our Durga Puja gift to the local people. Although we are here to run a business, we have an emotional attachment with Bengal as well. Moreover, it was the first green energy allotment we received in India. We bought 26 acres at Bankura to set up the plant and civil construction has been started," Sen said.

Sen pointed out that staying away from the land-for-industry debate, Astonfield is setting up most of its plants on infertile land. While it is setting up two solar power plants in the middle of the desert at Rajasthan and at Runn of Kutch in Gujarat, in Bengal it chose Bankura, where the land is mostly barren.

Astonfield Solar Private Limited, a subsidiary of ARRL, signed the PPA with WBSEDCL on December 11 at Vidyut Bhavan, following which it will supply power to the state power distribution body at a rate of Rs 4.5 per unit, stipulated by the national regulatory body.

The plant will generate around seven million units annually and will be set up at a total cost of around Rs 100 crore, Sen said. "The Bankura plant is first priority on the build schedule. We are keen to take on from there and begin on our pan India projects without delay," said Ravinder Raina, who newly joined Astonfield as its Indian operations president.

Raina, who has around 30 years of experience in the power industry, while expressing confidence in the Bankura project, was quick to point out that despite a predominantly sunny weather, it would not be able to be primary source of energy.

"We don't see cities like Kolkata being completely serviced by solar energy. The need of the hour is a mix of various sources, including thermal, oil and gas, nuclear and renewable energy for power generation. We would be happy if we can get around 1,000 MW from all the renewable sources put together," said Raina.

Besides the solar power plant at Bankura, Astonfield also has on the anvil a 10MW biomass power plant at Gangarampur in North Dinajpur, a 1MW biogas plant at Kalyani and a 54 MW plant to generate power from solid waste at Dhapa, the city's landfill.

While Astonfield intends to spend around Rs 2,000 crore ($500 million) on renewable energy projects across the nation over the next two years, project costs throughout Bengal will respectively be around Rs 60 crore for the Gangarampur project, Rs 8 crore for the Kalyani plant and around Rs 450 crore for the Dhapa plant.