by Dr Leena Gupta, Senior Scientist, Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development
Wind power can be a great source of renewable energy, but if put in the wrong place it can have considerable negative impacts on local livelihoods and resources. This article tells how local eco-restoration efforts were annihilated by the installation of a wind park and why this project should not be rewarded with carbon credits.
20 years ago Anantpur district in Andhra Pradesh was barren – a desert like landscape scarred with erosion. For two decades the volunteer organisation Timbaktu Collective worked together with eight villages to slowly nurture the area back to life. 7000 acres of land became protected and regenerated into a forest by the people of the Kogir, Mushtikovila, Shyapuram and Kambalapalli villages under the aegis of the ‘Kalpavalli Tree Growers Cooperative’. Now the decades of eco-restoration effort are being ruthlessly annihilated to set up a 50MW wind park inside this area.
Tadas Wind Energy limited chose Kalpavalli and the surrounding areas to set up 48 wind turbines because studies showed that the area had high potential for wind energy. Despite the area then being covered by forests, both the government and the company referred to obsolete revenue records which classed the area as “wastelands”. The company and the government then entered into purchase agreements for one acre plots on 48 strategic hilltop locations at extremely low prices. Under the name ‘Nallakonda wind farm in Andhra Pradesh’ the company also submitted this wind farm project to the UNFCCC for participation in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under this scheme, projects can receive carbon credits if they reduce emissions and contribute to sustainable development. If approved, the project could receive about 900,000 carbon credits until 2020.
Excessive Negative Impacts on Local Livelihoods and Resources
Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for renewable energy projects are not mandatory in India. The company has therefore not done any systematic EIA or Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study. However, neighboring communities to the project identified several negative environmental impacts, such as heavy deforestation, land degradation, affected water bodies and biodiversity loss already occurring from project activities. The PDD states: ‘… the project activity does not cause any negative impact on the environment, [thus] no EIA study was conducted. There are no significant environmental impacts due to implementation of the project activity’ (p. 29 of PDD).
During installation work the wind energy company has violated many national and state level forest protection and biodiversity conservation laws. A violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has been committed, which grants ‘Right to Life for all’ and contempt of the definition of Forest given by the H’ble Supreme Court of India. The letter of approval for the project from the Indian Government, a prerequisite to participate in the CDM, must therefore not be granted.
Vegetation has been removed and hilltops flattened on almost all hillocks in the area. Deep cuts of about 3 to 4 meters have been made on these slopes to make roads, but without retaining walls, so this has lead to massive soil erosion. Under the last monsoon rains the roads have all but collapsed and the eroded soil and landslides are creating major damage to the ecology of the area. These cuts have also heavily disrupted pasture routes making it impossible for cattle to climb up the hills. Internal water aquifers were also cut, creating a drastic decline in water availability. A massive spillage of construction debris has gone into fields and water bodies, further affecting water resources and livestock. To make matters worse, the construction activity needed a huge amount of water and now the windmills also need a constant supply of water for cooling them down. This water is taken by the company from the traditional water bodies of the villages without permission and often without payment. If payment is occasionally made, it is a paltry amount. A thorough impact assessment, including a proper consultation of local stakeholders, would have helped to identify such problems with this CDM project and could have avoided the damage it has caused to livelihoods and ecosystems as well as the current need for reparations.
Impacts of the project at a glance:
- Massive soil erosion due to illegal road construction
- 200 hectars of vegetation destroyed for construction of roads for transportation of wind park material
- Unauthorized water usage by wind park company for construction purposes
- Hilltops cut and deforested (48 acres of vegetation area degraded for construction of 48 windmills)
- Threats to paddyfields and water bodies (silting, construction debris)
- Heavy damage to pasture routes
- No share of local community in profit and energy distribution
- Pollution through packaging materials and construction debris
- Very high investment – Very low employment generation, destruction of local livelihood systems
This CDM Project must not be approved
Not only does this project have heavy negative impacts on local resources and livelihoods. The project design document (PDD) lacks substantiation of factors / parameters / statements that are considered crucial for registration of CDM projects with the CDM Executive Board. See comment submitted to the UNFCCC by CDM Watch here.
What’s more, the local consultation process for this CDM project has been heavily flawed even outside the scheme. Part IX of the Constitution of India enshrines the power of the Panchayats (the smallest unit of governance comprising a group of villages) and powers given to the Gram Sabha (a meeting where all members of the village above voting age are eligible to attend and give their opinion). Yet, neither the state government nor the company thought it fit to discuss the setting up of the project with these local governance bodies. Meetings were only held with government officials and elected representatives who were keen to promote wind farms because the investments were considerable and would result in certain benefits to these officials personally. The stakeholder consultation meeting was not properly announced and most villagers were completely in the dark about the consultations. Announcements were made in English within a local newspaper, but the language is seldom understood by local villagers. Through discussions with local villagers of the affected area, it was confirmed there was no announcement or notice in villages, village governance body meetings, or in the widely circulated local language newspapers. It was only when the roads needed to be constructed that a process of involving the community was conducted by making many promises. When concerns were raised about the effects on the cattle grazing nearby, villagers were assured that the project would not have any impacts on grazing, but that has not been the case.
The stakeholder consultation process of this project is heavily flawed and the project must therefore not be validated.
What must happen next:
- Restoration activity that reverses damage caused by the construction of roads
- Compensation for the loss of the livelihood due to the restricted grazing access and loss of other livelihoods from non-timber forest produce
- Negative validation of the CDM project due to breach of local stakeholder consultation and additionality rules
- Mandatory provision of an EIASIA for the construction of wind parks in India
Without a proper EIA and SIA process wind power projects can easily undermine the sustainability purposes for which they are intended. The impact on the life support systems of the local people have to be considered as an integral part of any project and must be factored into the assessment of the benefits and costs. Furthermore, introducing a mandatory provision of an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for the construction of wind parks and other renewable energy projects would ensure there is a proper assessment of the potential damage before giving permission to companies.
This case shows that when developing international protocols for biodiversity conservation and protection of community rights under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), lessons learnt from CDM projects with negative impacts must be taken into account. Rules for consultation and impact assessment need to be strengthened and safeguarded plus grievance mechanisms need be introduced. Local communities must be acknowledged as primary stakeholders for the preservation of biodiversity and natural resources. Any project that violates safeguarding provisions, or damages the environment or livelihoods must be ineligible for financial support in the name of climate or biodiversity.
For more details about this project, its impacts and why it should not be approved see our comment submitted to the UNFCCC during the global stakeholder consultation period here.
Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development, was set up in 1982 by scientists, social activists, representatives from government, industry and civil society concerned about the degradation of the land and its related life support systems. Based in New Delhi, the Society develops appropriate technological responses to reverse degradation and reaches out to strengthen local institutions. http://www.spwd.org/