From Times of India:
Not so long ago, villagers of obscure Ghatpendhri, 110km from here in the buffer zone of Pench Tiger Reserve, had to go 40-50km to recharge their mobiles when power went off. Today, the village is running on a mini solar grid, giving them the hope of never seeing a dark night again. Ghatpendhri is surrounded by thick forests, is the first village in the buffer zone of any tiger reserve in the country to get a renewable energy project, known as Kiran Prabha Solar Mini Grid, generating 2.4KV energy. Currently, the village gets power from Madhya Pradesh. All the villagers are tribals below poverty line (BPL). During power cuts, they use kerosene lamps, which is not only risky but costly too.
Ghatpendhri was picked for the project and funded by tiger conservation NGOs Satpuda Foundation, and Conservation Action Trust (CAT) – both partners in Saving India’s Tigers, for being isolated and suffering frequent power failures. The survey was completed by Sheldon Mendonca and Brendon Mendonca in 2014, following which the project was initiated by Bangalore-based SELCO Solar Light Private Limited.
“Despite agriculture being the biggest industry, load-shedding continues to be an issue in rural areas. If villagers are made comfortable with such eco-friendly projects, I don’t see why they will not come forward to save tigers,” feels Kishor Rithe, president of Satpuda Foundation. Rithe says, “We are not only promoting eco-friendly energy since 2007, like power from biodiesel, solar irrigation pumps, wind energy etc, but also transferring it to the local villages in Melghat. This experience came handy for solar grid in Ghatpendhri.” “Of the 200 households in the village, in the first phase, 76 are being connected to the solar mini grid. These houses have been provided with 3 & 2 watt LED bulbs each and a mobile charging socket,” says Mandar Pingle, conservation officer of Satpuda Foundation.
Now these people will not have to travel long distance to recharge their mobiles as was the case when power went off in the evening. The solar service made operational from June 14 is available from 6.30pm to 12pm in these 76 houses through 70 poles. Pingle says even if the villagers use MPEB power for some time, they will tend to get lower bills since during peak usage in the evening they will be getting solar energy stored in batteries. Till now, villagers used to pay somewhere between Rs300-500 as electricity bill. “After the grid has become operational, thefts by drawing power directly with the help of hooks has come down,” says Pingle.
The Bangalore-based solar firm has trained two youths to take care of technical problems. Besides, failures can be monitored through Internet also, as every house has been given unique ID.
Under the project, users have to pay Rs100 per month to a local committee constituted by passing a resolution in the gram panchayat to maintain the grid. Apart from grid maintenance, the two trained village youths will also be paid an honorarium of Rs500 each from the money collected from villagers. CAT executive trustee Debi Goenka says all the remaining houses will be covered in the next phase.