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Subsidised electricity for rural households

Apr 23, 2010

The first in India, Kabbigere Gram Panchayat sells power to the state power grid at a very nominal rate that is also environment friendly. Locals associated with a self-run biomass power plant, initiated under a joint UN-Karnataka Government project have benefited economically, and experience more greenery in their area.

In the remote Kabbigere village in the Southern Indian state of Karnataka, greenery is conspicuous. What is not so visible in this seemingly non-descript village is that the locally-elected governance institution or Gram Panchayat is the first in India to sell power to a power grid.

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Kabbigere Gram Panchayat sells power generated by its self-run biomass power plants at a rate of Rs.2.85 per kWh (USD0.06) to the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company.

The pioneering initiative is an outcome of a UNDP-led project -- the Biomass Energy for Rural India -- implemented in partnership with the Global Environment Facility, the India-Canada Environment Facility and the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.

Three small power plants of 250, 250 and 500 KW capacity each produce electricity from locally produced biomass. Since 2007, about 400,000 kWh of electricity has been generated. This equals the annual consumption of 6,000 rural households and has helped ensure more reliable electricity supply in the area.

In addition to the benefits of increased power generation, it is more environment-friendly as biomass is carbon neutral, i.e., it does not emit any carbon dioxide. The electricity generated through biomass is produced from locally grown eucalyptus and other trees and the increased need for the same has in-turn led to more greening of the area.

“Sometimes it is difficult to believe how much has changed around us -- there is so much more greenery around us, electricity supply is more regular and we have clean fuel for cooking,” says Siddagangamma, the president of the village committee in Kabbigere.

For 25-year-old Rangamma the change has meant that she gets to spend a little more time with her husband. “My husband is happy as now he does not have to go and fetch wood every day. He has extra money and time on his hands,” says a smiling Rangamma, adding: “I enjoy cooking for my family now as the fumes don’t choke me.”

In addition to environmental benefits, the economic savings from the project have also been significant. Fifty-one group biogas or gobar gas plants, set up as part of the project, have helped 175 households cook with cleaner fuel without any increase in operational costs, according to monitoring reports.

The electricity produced has also ensured that 130 borewells built in the village, each shared by five families, are used to meet irrigation needs of the village. This has increased average household income in Kabbigere by about 20%, says a project officer, adding: “Employing locals in the power plants, who are regularly trained by the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, has also improved the generation of skilled labour and employment opportunities.”

In addition, the biogas plants obtain the organic waste for fuel from nurseries set up by 81 Self Help Groups thereby providing income generation opportunities for women from marginalised communities. 

Meeting the power needs of the village through renewable energy and simultaneously improving cooking and irrigation techniques has effectively demonstrated the potential for environmentally sustainable development. This is particularly relevant to a country such as India, much of which continues to face an acute power shortage with one-third of India yet to be electrified.

Source : UNDP
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