People opposing the Athirappally project in Kerala should be willing to pay a higher price for electricity and set apart some space on their roof tops for solar power.
The alternative to hydel power for the State, as of now, is thermal power which is costly. Thermal projects cause more pollution than hydel projects. (Hydel projects cause pollution during construction work and reservoir emits greenhouse gases.) Besides, thermal projects use up a finite fuel sources.
So, one has to prefer Athirappally over thermal power. However, environmentalists have several objections specific to Athirappally project in view of its proximity to forests and the impact on the river system. Apart from biodiversity of the forests at some distance from the project site and the issue of displacement of a small group of tribals, the other issues are either weak or amenable to mitigation. The ‘forests’ in the immediate vicinity of the project are forest plantations and riverine vegetation. The conservation potential of the riverine vegetation at the project site is limited because the adjoining flora is plantations. Otherwise, we should allow the plantations to revert to forests.
A run-of-the-river project (without much dammed storage) need not cause any shortage of water in the Chalakkudy River if flow of water is synchronised with release of water from dams upstream of the river and regulated to allow reasonable flow for the Athirappally water fall. This may, however, reduce cost-effectiveness of the project.
A better option will be to avoid construction of the dam with the ultimate objective of decommissioning all major dams in the State in future. For that, we have to avoid dependence on thermal power and go for renewable sources of energy. Currently, rooftop solar power is considerably costlier than the power supplied by Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). The Board now has schemes to set up rooftop solar power units, funded either by the home/building owner or the KSEB. One has to go for solar power and other renewable sources while saying no to Athirappally project.
KSEB is currently going slow viable small hydroelectric projects. The Board as well as the government has a responsible to plan for energy security of the State instead of playing cat and mouse games.