The largest democratic process in the world kicked off on April 07, 2014. Over 800 million people are eligible to vote to choose their representatives for the lower house of the Indian parliament. It is only apt that the major political parties, and an attractive newcomer, sought to address a critical issue like renewable energy in their national agendas.
Manifestos of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Indian National Congress, and the Aam Aadmi Party have been closely scrutinised by the political pundits and the general public. While neither of the three present any specific actions regarding expansion and promotion of renewable energy, it is heartening to see that the issue has found a noticeable mention in their respective manifestos.
The frontrunner in this election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has stated that it would promote development of hydro power infrastructure without disturbing the local population and environment. The party has also stated that it would expand the ambitious National Solar Mission.
The Indian National Congress boasted that it aggressively implemented the National Solar Mission and would continue to do so at a rate so that the target to implement 22,000 MW capacity is achieved before the targeted year of 2022. The party also promised to implement a National Wind Energy Mission to promote the expansion of wind energy infrastructure in the country.
The Aam Aadmi Party has promised policies to promote decentralized renewable energy infrastructure.
So, why have these political parties suddenly woken up to the idea of including renewable energy into their poll promises. There are several reasons for this.
The BJP has stated that it would implement the National Solar Mission in an even more aggressive manner than it is being currently implemented. Their promise has some weight too. Their Prime Ministerial candidate Mr Narendra Modi launched the most aggressive state solar policy in the country a year before the central government (led by the INC) announced the national solar mission. Five years on, Gujarat remains the leader in solar power capacity among all states in India.
The INC claimed that it led the implementation of the National Solar Mission. Riding on the success of this mission, the party promised the National Wind Energy Mission which has been in the works for few months now. The implementation of the National Solar Mission has, however, slowed down over the last few months. It was under the Congress-led government that incentives for the wind energy sector were abolished and later partially reinstated. The government, and the party, seems to have learnt its lesson pretty quickly.
The policy proposed by the AAP mirrors its underlying principle, decentralisation of governance. The party promises to work towards promoting off-grid and decentralized renewable energy systems which would prove to be a boon for the rural as well as the urban population.
Apart from the party-specific reasons behind including these promises, there are other national realities that these parties had to address not only to address the issue of renewable energy but electricity as a whole.
India witnessed the largest blackouts in global history in July 2012. The blackouts affected a population of more than 620 million. A rare conjugation of several transmission lines being down for maintenance and a rather common occurrence of state governments not heeding to the directions of the central regulators were to blame for the blackouts. The blackouts were a strategic eye opener. It highlighted the collapse of not only the energy infrastructure in the country but also the failure of governance, across parties.
The second eye opener was the AAP making the issue of increasing electricity rates an election issue at the assembly elections in national capital Delhi. The newly formed party forced its competitors to state policies directed at lowering electricity tariffs for the household consumers. These policies included implementation of net metering and rooftop solar power systems.
The issue of rising electricity tariffs would remain for the foreseeable future as the state utilities are now required to file for tariff revisions every year. And renewable energy, especially solar energy, gains significance in this aspect as solar energy tariffs have been rapidly declining over the last few years while electricity based on coal and natural gas have been increasing.
Clearly, these parties have included the promises that suit them the best and project them in favorable light in front of the voters. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see that there has been an effort to promote the crucial issue of renewable energy which directly and indirectly impacts other critical issues of energy independence, energy equality, and economic growth.
Note: The author has voted for the Indian National Congress and Aam Aadmi Party in previous elections.
Image Credit: Kumar Nav | CC BY 2.0