Three years since launch, solar panel scheme fails to power up

While Bescom finalised an eligible agency in January 2021, it could not get it on board since the allocation for the financial year 2020-21 had expired
Last Updated 27 February 2022, 06:11 IST

Nearly three years after the union government announced subsidy for rooftop solar panel installation, Bescom is yet to finalise empanelled vendors, effectively denying citizens to go green.

In March 2019, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) announced the Soura Gruha Yojana and made electricity supply companies nodal agencies. Consumers get a 40% subsidy for up to three kilowatts of solar panel installation and 20% for above 3 kW.

Despite Bescom receiving 1,200 applications since 2019, the project has seen little movement. Officials said three tenders were called but didn’t get much response. “We had a 30 MW allocation for the financial year 2019-20 and floated a tender to identify the agency to instal the panels but the response was poor and no eligible bidders came forward,” a Bescom official said, adding that the subsequent tender had the same result.

While Bescom finalised an eligible agency in January 2021, it could not get it onboard since the allocation for the financial year 2020-21 had expired. The electricity company has now called for the fourth tender and is hoping to seal the deal at the earliest.

Bescom Managing Director Rajendra Cholan said a work order had already been issued to instal panels up to 5.5 MW capacity. “Initially, it was decided that consumers should pay escoms which, in turn, would appoint an agency to instal the panels. Going by this scheme, we issued the work order to instal panels up to 5.5 MW and work would begin shortly,” he said.

Cholan said a few gaps in communication caused the delay, which has now been resolved, adding that frequent changes to guidelines have also hindered the process. “After the first few applications, the MNRE guidelines changed,” he said. “They said we empanel the vendors and let consumers pay them directly. Allocations for various scams also changed multiple times. So we couldn’t finalise the vendors.”

Poor response

Bescom officials said the response to the programme had been lukewarm. “The 1,200 applications we received amount to just 2.2 MW of energy,” said a Bescom official. The poor utilisation prompted MNRE to slash allocation to Bescom from 300 MW to 10 MW.

Officials also said 300 MW was a high target.

“A solar panel of capacity 1 kW can be set up on an area of 100 sq ft. Most of the applications we receive are from residential buildings and hence achieving 300 MW is nearly impossible,” the official explained.

Cholan said Bescom was working out a programme to lure more consumers to solar energy. “We could not hold many awareness programmes due to the pandemic. But going ahead, we plan to motivate more RWAs and citizens to opt for solar rooftops,” he said, adding that Bescom is also developing a single-window system to simplify the subsidy application process.

Noticing the lapses in implementation, the MNRE last month announced that consumers are no longer required to get the panels installed via empanelled vendors. “Consumers can directly avail themselves of the subsidy by furnishing the documents on a specially-designed portal or get the installations from empanelled vendors appointed by escoms. But the portal is yet to be launched,” an official said.

Despite claims of challenges in luring consumers, citizens have set up rooftop solar panels amounting to 175.259 MW since 2014 without the subsidy. Bescom has helped instal a further 4 MW.

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(Published 26 February 2022, 19:29 IST)

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