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Economic Times: Rockefeller Foundation pledges $75 million to light up 1,000 villages

NEW DELHI: The Rockefeller Foundation has announced a $75-million, or about Rs 467-crore, rural electrification programme for bringing clean power to a million people across one thousand villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar over the next three years through mini-grids.

The programme, ‘Smart Power for Rural Development’, aims to install 150 solar-powered mini-grids by the end of 2015, 500 by the end of 2016 and the balance in 2017 in villages which have either no or less than 10% of coverage by the national grid.

New Delhi-based Smart Power will partner energy service companies (ESCOs), telecom tower operators, investors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and government agencies in implementing this project.

“Rural electrification is littered with philanthropy. But these ESCOs are for-profit. We’re not yet ready for the for-profit only model. That’s why we have this hybrid or blended solution at this point of time to kickstart the microgrid model,” said Judith Rodin, president at The Rockefeller Foundation.

The foundation would provide bridge loan financing to the four ESCOs -Tara Urja, OMC, Desi Power and Free Spans — in addition to providing them techno-commercial support, facilitating their agreements with telecom companies and aligning it with the government’s overarching policy.

The mini-grids are meant to provide market opportunities to investors and aim to be able to integrate into the national grid system, which the government is extending.

Under the Smart Power model, it is envisaged that an anchor tenant – for example, a telecom company operating local cell towers – would serve as the base consumer for power and make it profitable for an ESCO to build a plant large enough to serve both lighting and productive loads.

With this structure in place, the ESCO would aim to sell power to local businesses and households in villages, thus, meeting the need for various uses of power such as home lighting, productive loads for mini enterprises (like welding shops) and agricultural loads (irrigation and grinding mills).


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