While opposing Athirappally project …

Athirappally water fall on the Chalakudy River of Kerala, India.

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.

3 thoughts on “While opposing Athirappally project …

  1. Today the cost of solar power is less than that of hydroelectric power, particularly when the environmental costs are also taken into account. And Kerala has a huge potential for solar power. The KSSP, Sri Binoy Viswam, MP, and the Finance Minister, Dr. Thomas Isaac, have pointed this out. It looks like someone is probably expecting something from implementing the Athirappally project. Why else would they keep pushing this every few years in spite of being rejected every time?

  2. Actually, the price of hydroelectricity would be much higher if its environmental costs were also counted. It appears cheap only because we ignore its impact on the environment. Solar power is now much cheaper. Please see what Dr. R.V.G. Menon has to say about this. Solar power is not only much cheaper in terms of its cost of production and environmental costs, the potential for solar power in Kerala runs to several Gigawatt-hours. So, why destroy a beautiful ecosystem in order to produce a bit of electricity for a few years? In any case this project is not going to fulfil the needs of this state for more than a few years, by which time, we will have to go back to solar power and the ecosystem in Athirappally would be destroyed for ever. Is it really worth that?

    • Solar power is indeed better than hydropower in terms of environmental impact. Though the cost of solar power was coming down, it may go up now that Chinese imports may be restricted. So, policy makers will have to decide in favour of a costlier alternative. Solar power too has its environmental costs, especially when taken up as a solar farm. It cuts off sunshine from the land/water underneath and reduces its productivity. Besides, a solar plant requires a lot of water for washing almost on a daily basis, especially in dusty conditions. It cannot be used to meet peak demand as battery storage is costly.

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