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India

Now wind is blamed for causing drought

Wind power has become embroiled in yet another bizarre controversy -- accused of adversely affecting rainfall levels in some parts of India. Increasingly, wind turbines have been cited as a cause for lower volumes of rain in the areas they have been installed. The accusation was first made in a local newspaper based in the Satara district, which is the hub of Maharashtra state's wind power development activity.

The wind industry is having to invest in broadcast time to fight fears that wind farms are reducing rainfall in India, a life-threatening problem for an agricultural economy

Wind power has become embroiled in yet another bizarre controversy -- accused of adversely affecting rainfall levels in some parts of India. Increasingly, wind turbines have been cited as a cause for lower volumes of rain in the areas they have been installed. The accusation was first made in a local newspaper based in the Satara district, which is the hub of Maharashtra state's wind power development activity. In what one observer has described as "a cynical ploy" by the opposition party to win votes in the forthcoming elections, the accusation was made in an attack on the ruling party. "Blaming lack of rainfall on wind energy which is being supported by the ruling party is one way to appease the rural community and get more votes," says the observer.

The leader of the opposition in Satara, Narayan Rane, is unrepentant. He has demanded the closure of wind farms for a year to see if rainfall improves. His premise is that the turbine blades disperse the clouds resulting in a 50% shortfall in rain. He has accused the ruling government of having a "stake in wanting to keep the wind farm operations and taking the side of vested interests." Others in opposition have jumped on this bizarre bandwagon and the accusation is spreading across the country. Many people are being convinced the argument has merit. In an agricultural economy like India, it could spell doom for the wind industry.

Fighting back, the Indian Wind Power Association (IWPA) notes that independent statistics prove this is just not so. In Tamil Nadu, where more than half of India's wind capacity is installed, there were heavy rains just last month, it says. Quoting Indian Meteorological Department (IDM) statistics, IWPA adds that in 2001 and 2002, the state's Tirunelveli district, which had the most turbines installed in those years, received 20% more than the average rainfall.

"There is absolutely no connection between the two. Last year the country suffered from a drought, the first since 1987, a freak year. It had nothing to do with wind turbines," says IDM's Dr H.R. Hadwar. Rangarajan Balajee from wind project developer Indowind adds: "Its been raining cats and dogs in Tamil Nadu. Perhaps wind turbines have had something to do with it."

Vestas RRB's Sarvesh Kumar says the report is baseless, but will hurt the image of the wind industry if not stopped immediately. It is understood that a delegation comprising representatives of India's wind power associations will present their case to the president of India, Dr Abdul Kalam, in a bid to have the opposition's accusation publicly condemned and refuted. In addition, turbine manufacturer Suzlon, which has its major base in Pune, Maharashtra, has made a six minute TV broadcast refuting the claims. To be shown on local channels, it includes interviews from experts including the energy board dismissing the accusations and hoping to recreate confidence in wind among local communities.

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