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April 11, 2011

Responding to the Energy Crisis in India: The National Energy Conclave

"Right now we have some firefighting to do." - Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala

The numbers are staggering - 50-gigawatts (GW) of power planned for Orissa, 35-GW for Andhra Pradesh, 35-50-GW for Maharashtra. In state after state eye popping numbers of large scale energy production are proposed to address the countries chronic energy supply shortage and fuel its economic growth.

However, the sheer scale of projects proposed for relatively confined geographical areas is leaving local communities to bear the brunt of this energy rush; A rush that is leading to an onslaught of land acquisition and displacement, corruption and intimidation, and a toxic legacy of localized pollution.

Of the many important dimensions of this energy rush is the fact that pollution is localized while benefits are exported. A dimension that is all the more important as the majority of these projects are coal-based. Last year India approved 173 coal fired power plants. When you account for holidays and weekends that is nearly one project every day.

The toxic legacy of this coal rush will be debilitating levels of soot, smog, mercury, fly ash and other hazardous air pollutants that will impact the agricultural yields and health of local communities for decades to come. At the same time the vast majority of this power will be exported to large cities, industrial users, and neighboring states. In fact, there is no guarantee that communities bearing the brunt of pollution will even receive an electrical connection, let alone 24 hours of continuous power.

From the perspective of those standing in the path of this massive energy expansion the staggering social, economic, and health-related effects are creating a full blown crisis. These communities are waging brave struggles to retain their land, health, and community cohesion - and they are winning. Already two of the government's Ultra Mega Power Projects (4,000-MW and above) have been unable to acquire the land required. However, local struggles can only hold out for so long without the strength of a movement determined to bring about a shift in the collective approach to supplying and consuming energy.

In support of these struggles leading thinkers, experts, activists, and citizens from around the country gathered together for the National Energy Conclave held March 26th- 27th in Orissa to lay the foundations for such a movement. Sierra Club was lucky enough to be invited to this important gathering. We took the time to hear the participant's thoughts on the Indian energy situation, the unprecedented scale of energy development planned, and how grassroots groups were going about the firefighting needed to stop these destructive projects.

Watch this three minute video of members from the National Alliance for People's Movements (NAPM), Greenpeace India, ONergy, and many others sounding off on the energy issues facing their country.

India National Conclave on Energy and Climate Change from Justin Guay on Vimeo.

-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International Program


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