CHENNAI: After an intensive rooftop solar campaign by the State, which peaked in 2015-2016, the State-run electricity discom TANGEDCO has back-pedalled on its promises of offering subsidies and distribution of net metres. Result: those who have installed rooftop solar equipment and those looking to do so were left in the lurch.
In its proposal to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC) last year, the discom had proposed to fix the price for solar power exported to the grid at 50 per cent of the lowest solar tender rate quoted during the previous financial year or 50 per cent of the solar preferential tariff rate issued by the TNREC corresponding to the financial year, whichever is less.
This, in contrary to the existing power credit system that allows consumers to be billed after deducting the power exported to the grid from his/her bi-monthly usage, would drastically reduce the return on investment.
The proposal aside, those looking to install rooftop solar panels for the sake of energy security, are also staring at a dead-end.
While the Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA) still stands by its campaign to install solar power on houses and save up to `14,700 per year, the subsidies for installation have become irregular, claimed users.
“If the government is not ready to give subsidies for rooftop solar plants, they should scrap the scheme altogether and stop advertising it so that people will stop expecting it,” said Suresh, who has a 3KW solar plant at his residence in Kilpauk.
Private rooftop solar installers also claimed to bear the brunt of the ‘namesake’ subsidy.
“The subsidies became far and few in 2016 and now they seem to have completely stopped,” said Dinesh Salem Natarajan of Sootless Energy, a private solar power installation firm.
“This being a low-margin business as it is, we have decided against taking the subsidy model route. We tell our customers upfront that we will be installing it at non-subsidised rates,” he added.
Now the TEDA promises a subsidy of `20,000 per kWp, for which 1kWp plants for residential purposes are eligible.
If at all a consumer agreed to proceed with the installation with neither the subsidy nor the power credit system in place, simply for the sake of achieving energy security or for the satisfaction of taking a step towards new, renewable energy, they are met with another roadblock -- the unavailability of net metres.
Consumers and installers claimed that the wait to avail net metres from TANGEDCO is long, deliberate attempt to discourage users from turning to rooftop solar power generation.
“We at the CAG had attempted to install rooftop solar plants at our office premises in April last year. We were told that net metres were unavailable when sources said they had net metres in stock,” said Vishnu K of Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG).
Activists attributed the bottleneck to TANGEDCO’s singular monopoly on net metres. Although the TNERC had maintained that while TANGEDCO could be responsible for the distribution of net metres, consumers may also procure them from private sources. But finding private net metre suppliers was a rarity, said installers.
“In States like Karnataka, the consumer is able to choose from a list of authorised net metre dealers available in the State discom’s website and procure it from anyone of them. For installation and connection to the grid alone, the discom is responsible,” said Dinesh.
However, in Tamil Nadu, the net metres have to come from TANGEDCO along with the discom being responsible for connection of the net metres to the grid, he added.
Vishnu said the net metres keep track of the excess electricity that flowed back into the power grid after meeting the home owners’ requirements. But if they are not present, there is no way to calculate and deduct the power credits from the consumers’ bill.
“For the remaining, parallel operations are in place. But there is no way of tracking the electricity exported to the grid and so the electricity that flows to the grid is free power for TANGEDCO,” he said.
On the unavailability of net metres, the TANGEDCO officials said the net metres were being distributed according to demand.
“We have received no complaints so far with regard to the long waiting time,” a TANGEDCO official said.
The metre conundrum
Consumers who have rooftop solar plants without net metres may actually have to pay double their bill if they turn on the plant inadvert-ently. The consumer would have to pay for the power consumed and for the power generated by the solar plant and exported into the grid
The net metres keep track of the excess electricity that flowed back into the power grid after meeting the home owners’ requirements
`20,000 Subsidy per kWp promised by TEDA while installing rooftops
According to activists, TANGEDCO’s alleged decision to hold back net metres could be a violation of Section 60 (Market Domination) of the Electricity Act, 2003, which stated that a generating company may not abuse its dominant position or enter into a combination which is likely to cause or caused an adverse effect on competition in electricity industry
In States like Karnataka, a list of authorised net metre dealers is available in the State discom’s website and metres can be procured from anyone of them
Off-grid facility comes in handy
Despite activists claiming that the environment was not conducive for a shift to solar power, residents of an apartment in Padur on the OMR were determined to switch to solar rooftop, expecting a reasonable return of investment. They were not disappointed. The apartment now has an
off-grid solar plant to power their shared 3,200 sq ft club house. While their system neither allows them to store nor export the surplus power generated, they still claim substantial savings in their power bill. “We have saved up to `1.2 lakh in six months. The power requirement is about 225 units a day, of which a part — 120 units — is solar powered,” said R Gopalan, president of Mantri Synergy Residents Welfare sociation.