By - King Stubb & Kasiva on August 29, 2023
India's commitment to expanding its renewable energy capacity has led to a concerted effort to accelerate the commissioning of Hydro Pumped Storage Projects (PSPs). These projects hold a vital role in integrating intermittent renewable energy sources into the power grid, aligning with the nation's goal of achieving 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity by 2030 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. However, amidst these ambitious targets, the journey towards hydroelectric project realization is often impeded by legal procedures and clearance challenges. This article explores the recent initiatives taken to expedite these projects and the persistent challenges that need to be addressed in the process.
Recognizing the need for expeditious commissioning of Hydro PSPs, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has embarked on a comprehensive idea of the concurrence process for Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) related to these projects. One of the key advancements is the establishment of a dedicated Single Window Clearance Cell. This strategic approach aims to streamline the approval process by providing a centralized platform for project proponents to interact with various regulatory bodies involved in the clearance process.
In addition to the Single Window Clearance, other pivotal organizations have been enlisted to facilitate faster clearances. The Central Water Commission (CWC) has appointed nodal officers dedicated to expediting the clearance of design aspects. Moreover, multiple examination groups within the CWC have been designated to assess the design aspects of DPRs, thereby enhancing the speed of the clearance process. Simultaneously, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has nominated nodal officers to accelerate the clearance of geological aspects within DPRs. The CEA has further requested the involvement of GSI's subordinate and field officers in states to ensure a more efficient clearance procedure.
Environmental clearances have historically posed significant hurdles for hydroelectric projects. However, relentless efforts by the CEA and the Ministry of Power have yielded positive results. The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has taken crucial steps in simplifying the clearance process for Hydro PSPs. MoEF&CC's decision to appraise Off Stream Closed Loop PSPs with specific Terms of Reference (ToRs) indicates a more nuanced approach to environmental evaluations. Furthermore, the MoEF&CC's decision to categorize PSPs on existing reservoirs under the B2 category, wherein Environmental Impact Assessment is not mandatory under certain conditions, is a substantial stride towards expediting the environmental clearance process.
A cornerstone of hastening hydroelectric projects is the efficient approval of Detailed Project Reports. The revised guidelines set forth by the CEA present a tangible solution for faster concurrence timelines. Notably, the timeline for specific categories of PSPs has been significantly reduced. This includes projects awarded under the Electricity Act's bidding process, those integrated into broader renewable energy initiatives, and those developed as captive or merchant plants. The timeline for concurrence of these PSPs has been shortened from 90 days to just 50 days, streamlining the pathway to approval. Similarly, the timeline for concurrence of other PSPs has been reduced from 125 days to 90 days, offering a more efficient route to regulatory approval.
Amidst the optimism surrounding these accelerated procedures, it is important to acknowledge the challenges that persist in the path toward hydroelectric project commissioning. Navigating complex regulatory frameworks, addressing potential environmental concerns, and securing the support of local communities remain formidable obstacles. Striking a balance between the imperative for clean energy and the safeguarding of environmental integrity requires a meticulous and strategic approach.
As India strives for an energy-efficient and sustainable future, the role of hydroelectric power projects, particularly pumped storage initiatives, becomes paramount. The government's proactive efforts to streamline legal procedures and regulatory clearances deserve commendation. Through the establishment of a Single Window Clearance Cell, appointment of nodal officers, simplification of environmental clearances, and condensation of DPR approval timelines, India's hydroelectric projects are poised for a more rapid trajectory.
In pursuit of ambitious renewable energy goals, collaboration between regulatory bodies, stakeholders, and local communities remains vital. While challenges persist, the nation's dedication to surmounting these hurdles and achieving cleaner energy sources highlights India's commitment to a greener future for generations to come. As the nation progresses on this journey, the interplay between policy interventions and on-ground execution will define the success of India's hydroelectric power sector, contributing significantly to its sustainable energy future.
Hydro Pumped Storage Projects (PSPs) are a type of hydroelectric power project that involves using surplus grid power to pump water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir during periods of low demand. This potential energy is then converted back into electricity during peak demand when power is scarce. PSPs play a crucial role in India's commitment to achieving 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2070. They help integrate intermittent renewable energy sources with the grid, supply dispatchable renewable power, and meet peak power requirements.
The Indian government has implemented several measures to fast-track the approval process for Hydro PSPs. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has established a Single Window Clearance Cell, allowing project proponents to interact with multiple regulatory bodies through a centralized platform. The Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Geological Survey of India (GSI) have appointed nodal officers to accelerate design and geological clearances. Additionally, the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has simplified environmental clearances by appraising specific aspects and categorizing projects under a streamlined clearance category.
The CEA has introduced revised guidelines for the DPR approval process of Hydro PSPs. The timeline for concurrence of specific categories of PSPs has been reduced from 90 days to 50 days. These categories include projects awarded through the Electricity Act's bidding process, those integrated into broader renewable energy projects, and captive or merchant plants. The timeline for other PSPs has been reduced from 125 days to 90 days. This reduction in approval timelines expedites the regulatory process, allowing projects to move forward swiftly.
 The Central Electricity Authority (CEA), https://cea.nic.in/
 The Central Water Commission, https://cwc.gov.in/
 Guidelines for examination and approval of changes in design of structures/ equipment of Hydroelectric Projects including Pumped Storage Projects (PSPs) subsequent to accord of concurrence by CEA, March 2023