Many farmers are supplementing their meagre incomes by taking wind jobs on the side, such as digging foundations and laying cables. Business is booming, too, and the once barren land in the district, worth little to anyone including the owners, is an asset worth its weight in gold now that wind turbines are dotting the landscape A direct air link with Madras was recently introduced and many say it came about because of the business created by wind energy.
A relative newcomer to the wind scene in Coimbatore, currently in the process "of finalising grants with the British government, " is Mr VNAS Chandran of Sangeetha Textiles who has apparently bought Carter Wind Turbines of the UK, a company which earlier bought the rights to make and sell the American Carter wind turbine technology. Carter makes 300 kW and 25 kW turbines. Chandran started in wind energy as a developer, installing 2 MW of wind turbines at Kethanur, supplied by NEPC-Micon in Madras, to supply his company with power.
Chandran says he has now bought 2000 acres of land in Muppandal and Kethanur for further wind farm development. By March, five 300 kW Carter machines, each with a newly developed control system, had been commissioned at Muppandal for Sangeetha Textiles. Chandran is unconcerned about being a latecomer to the wind scene. "We are confident that our machines have more flexibility than the Danish ones. They also cost less and require less maintenance. It is our own money we are spending and we seldom take chances." Chandran wants to sell 100 wind turbines by the end of the year, starting with some single units on his tea plantations in the picturesque Nilgiri Hills. "We have an extra high tower at 50 metres and expect to produce 15% more as a result," he comments.
Chandran is far from being alone in the wind business in Coimbatore. A joint venture between Danish wind turbine manufacturer, Wind World, and Arul Mariamman Textiles Ltd (AMTL) of Coimbatore, has led to the setting up of a factory in Pondicherry. AMTL plans to release its first unit, a 250 kW turbine, by September next year. It expects, according to managing director Mr RVS Marimuthu, to produce 500 turbines by 1997. AMTL-Wind World has already installed a 2 MW wind plant at Muppandal to supply power to the firm and between April 1994 and March 1995 it commissioned 105 wind turbines imported from Denmark at Muppandal, Kayathar, Kethanur in Tamil Nadu and at Dhank in Gujarat, where 1 MW went in the ground. "We are hopeful of getting orders from Gujarat. Before September we expect to be installing our machines in Andhra Pradesh, where the government has begun leasing out land, and in Karnataka," says Marimuthu. The power-intensive AMTL Group has 25 factories with a total workforce of 5500.
Continuing its trend of thinking big, AMTL-Wind World also plans to introduce Wind World's 500 kW turbine to India. The first two 500 kW are going in close to home at its Kethanur site. But Marimuthu acknowledges there are logistical problems. "There is a problem with availability of cranes, putting a limit on height, though 45 metres is ideal," he says. At the moment, AMTL-Wind World is constructing 30 metre towers at the company's factory in Trichy. "This is now being increased to 40 metres," assures Marimuthu.
A third Coimbatore company on the wind scene is Textool, a 50-year old textile spinning machinery business and until recently a client for wind turbines supplied by RRB-Vestas. It operates 12, 225 kW Vestas units at Kethanur. Textool is collaborating with another Danish wind company, Nordtank, and will assemble Nordtank 150 kW, 300 kW and 550 kW units at its factory in Pongular, alongside its other machinery business. By March Textool had commissioned 20, Nordtank 300 kW units, ten to supply power to the assembly factory and ten for a subsidiary company. By April 1996, the company expects to have installed one hundred 300 kW machines and 65 of its larger 550 kW unit. Interest in smaller machines is slack these days. The Textool group is extremely power intensive and the group has already acquired 2000 acres of land in its district for wind development and in this way expects to be able to keep its electricity bills stable when the expected price rises for grid supply begin to rise in about five years.