The state government’s project to facilitate uninterrupted electricity supply to farmers has begun with the first pilot project coming up in Sangamner taluka in district Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. The project involves shifting from thermal to solar power in the agriculture sector, the estimated expenditure for which is Rs 1,000 crore annually. The pilot project is expected to complete within five to six months. Thereafter, the model will be replicated across Maharashtra. Presently, the majority of the state’s 1.37 crore farmers rely on thermal-based electricity necessary to operate irrigation. Agriculture utilises 30 per cent of the total 17,000 MW power generated in state. Due to factors like peak hour demand coupled with theft and transmission losses, power supply to agriculture does not peak beyond 6 to 8 hours.
Although the state government has urged the power ministry to increase power supply from the current 8 hours to 12 hours per day, it wants to evolve a long term solution to tackle the problems. The 12 hours power supply to agriculture will cost Rs 500 crore more to the energy ministry which has agreed to bear the expenses. According to Maharashtra State Electricity Board director Vishwas Patil, “The chief minister has given us clear directives that farmers should get 12 hours of power, preferably longer, during the day time. While we are trying to meet the challenges, another project which has been pushed by the CM is to segregate and shift the agriculture feeders from thermal to solar energy at the earliest.”
The government has also worked out an economic model for solar power. The government provides Rs 8,000 crore in subsidies to the agriculture sector. That same amount, along with incentives for alternative energy from the Centre can help it create the infrastructure for solar power. The government has been heavily cross-subsidising power for agriculture. Presently, farmers get electricity for 85 paise per unit, while the average total cost per unit is Rs 5.50 to Rs 6.50. Industries pay Rs 8.50 to Rs 9.50 per unit. Meanwhile, the state government has ordered the energy department to increase electricity supply to agriculture sector from 8 to 12 hours. It has also stressed on giving power for longer hours in the daytime to help farmers work in their fields.