Manisha Patel still vividly remembers seeing students fall asleep in her classroom in 2011. When Patel woke them up, they would be irritable. A few were simply unable to focus on their studies.
“Initially, I could not understand what was happening,” said Patel, a middle-aged, bespectacled woman who travels from a nearby village to teach science at a government primary girls school in Jangi, a windy village in Gujarat’s Kachchh district. Jangi is 10 km inland from the Gulf of Kutch, on the westernmost coast of India, separated from the sea by flat, white salt pans and marshy creeks.
When Patel asked her students why they were falling asleep, what they said startled her: noise from the newly-installed pavan chakki – windmill – was keeping them awake all night.
Two years earlier, in 2009, the people of Jangi had watched with fascination as giant-sized machinery arrived in the village: long, white blades, and an even longer white pole, which was split into three big parts, each transported on a different truck. Once installed, each pole was around 20 metres tall, or as tall as a six-storey building. Three blades were attached to a rotor atop the pole. Almost immediately, they cut through the windy air, generating electricity, but also making swishing sounds: zoop-zoop-zoop.
The first windmill near Jangi was set up close to the shoreline, a few kilometres from most of its homes. But over the years, the giant machines crept closer, and the noise grew louder.
It was loud enough in the day. At night, as the village fell silent, it was unbearable. Residents began inserting cotton buds in their ears, shutting their doors and windows, which they once left open. And schoolchildren started dozing off in school. “I let them sleep,” said Patel, who realised children could not concentrate on their studies if they didn’t get enough rest.
Now, a windmill literally towers above Maliben Ahir’s home – the movement of the blades causes an incessant play of light and shadow. “The noise is loud at night. Sometimes the oil leaks and stinks,” said Ahir, who is 50 years old.
Jangi isn’t alone. Several villages nearby are overrun by windmills. There are about 600 of them in a radius of 30 km, making this one of the country’s “most dense sites for windmills”, said Mudita Vidrohi, an environmentalist based in Ahmedabad.
With 1,600 km of windswept coastline, where wind speeds touch 10 metres per second, Gujarat is one of the leading producers of wind energy in the country. India, which set up its first windmill in the 1980s, is the fourth-largest onshore wind energy market in the world – as of January, it had a capacity of 41.98 GW of wind energy. Gujarat accounts for almost a fourth, or 9.8 GW, of that capacity. As of last year, it had installed the country’s second-highest wind energy capacity, after Tamil Nadu.
According to an estimate by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a Delhi-based not-for-profit policy research institute, national wind energy capacity would have to go up to more than 2,200 GW if India wants to meet its global commitment of reducing dependence on fossil fuels and reaching carbon neutrality – also called the net-zero target – by 2070. Currently, India relies overwhelmingly on coal-based thermal energy, but efforts are underway to scale up the use of clean, renewable energy.
By 2030, according to a March 2023 report of the Global Wind Energy Council, India is aiming to add additional capacity of more than 60 GW from onshore windmills, and nearly 40 GW from offshore windmills.
Wind energy is clean, readily available and easy to tap. Another advantage is its ability to complement solar energy, said Disha Agarwal, senior programme lead at CEEW. She explained that while solar panels stop harnessing power after sunset, wind turbines continue to work through the night.
“With India moving towards a solar-heavy system in the future, wind energy’s complementary nature with solar is a high motivation for developing the wind sector,” Agarwal said.
Dr N Karunamoorthy, director of Windplus, a Tamil Nadu-based manufacturer of turbines, explained that currently, onshore windmills have a life of over 25 years.
“The current capacity of a windmill ranges from 250 KW to 3.6 MW, some even higher,” he said. When a turbine of 250 KW runs at its full capacity, it can produce enough energy to light up 4,000 60W tubelights for an hour. Karunamoorthy explained that the bigger the wind turbine is, the larger is its capacity to produce electricity.
But while policy-makers have highlighted the advantages of wind energy, India is yet to wake up to its long-term challenges. Internationally, several studies have looked at the impact of wind farms on the communities that live near them, but in India, this remains a neglected area of research. This, despite the fact that in the coastal villages of Gujarat, the impact of windmills is starkly visible – not just on the people, but even on the land and wildlife, as Scroll found while travelling along the coast in February.
In villages like Jangi, where windmills turn night and day, several locals reported problems to their health and wellbeing, including sleeplessness, headaches and irritability. Additionally, farmers also complained of low crop productivity and disruptions to the area’s water table. Wildlife researchers, meanwhile, have found that the windmill’s spinning blades and the high-tension electric cables stretching from power grids pose a grave risk to bird life.
In villages like Lamba, 350 km away from Jangi, residents have to contend with the debris of windmills that were installed around 30 years ago, but have since become defunct or been destroyed, damaging farmland, and posing risks of pollution due to the non-biodegradable nature of the glass fibre used in making windmills.
Gujarat continues to rapidly increase the area of land under windmills, presently most in the district of Bhuj. “Wind energy is right now considered a holy cow,” said Vidrohi. “Nobody is truly addressing its possible harmful impacts.”
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To reach Jangi by rail, you have to alight at Samakhiali junction. For tourists heading north, the town is a gateway to the White Rann, which gets its name from the saline deposits that give it the appearance of a white desert. But if you go south towards the Gulf of Kutch, a dusty, bumpy 5-km ride later, you can spot huge rotating fans, power grids and never-ending transmission lines stretching out into the horizon. The poles here are between 80 metres and 100 metres tall, and the blades are the size of large aircraft.
Less than two decades ago, the skyline was clear. Farmer and cattle rearer Bhikabhai Rabari, who lives in Jangi, remembers that the salty land around his village was either farmed or used as grassland for camel and cows. A large mangrove covered the Jangi coastline, and small patches were used to make salt.
The region was poor, and still recovering from the impact of the 2001 Bhuj earthquake. Then, around 2005, an opportunity knocked on residents’ doors.
Ganesh Ahir, a local broker, began approaching residents of Jangi to buy their land for a pavan chakki, saying that it was for a government project. A few windmills had already been set up in the nearby village of Chandrodi. Ahir said he was coordinating between private companies who were involved in the project and local residents, earning a commission for each land deal he made.
“This land is not very fertile because it is near the sea,” Ahir told Scroll. “The Bhuj earthquake had damaged properties. And poor farmers were willing to sell off their land.”
The land was sold for between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000 per acre back then, he said.
Rabari, who is 65 years old, and is a grandfather to five school-going children, said most locals did not know what a windmill was. When the first ones arrived, they looked on in awe. Each time a windmill was set up in Jangi, a path had to be carved through farms to reach it. Some farm lands were bought to make way for paths, while some farmers told Scroll that a path was created through their farms even though no one purchased their land.
As the windmill installations crept closer to Jangi, a swishing sound boomed louder. “Children would wake up scared at night,” Rabari said. Several residents that Scroll met complained of irritability, lethargy and persistent headaches.
The health impacts of windmills on communities adjacent to them are well documented in a 2009 book, Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment, where author Nina Pierpont foundthat families living near windmills in Mexico were witnessing “Wind Turbine Syndrome”. Assessing the long- and short- term impacts of exposure to the low-frequency sounds of windmills, Pierpont found that families suffered from sleep disturbance, headaches, ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, visual blurring, irritability, problems with concentration and memory, and “panic episodes associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering which arise while awake or asleep”.
On a sunny afternoon this February, Hansa Dapda brought her seven-year-old, Riya, to the primary health centre in Jangi after she began crying incessantly due to ear pain. As she waited for the nurse to open the health centre, Dapda said, “I don’t know if it is connected with the turbine. But Riya cannot sleep peacefully at night and gets irritable. The noise of the windmill is loud, especially during winters, when the speed of wind is high.”
Daily wage labourer Abbu Kumbhar, next in queue outside the health centre, interjected, “It is definitely because of the windmill. I can’t sleep. It is difficult to go to work like that every day.”
The primary health centre, however, has maintained no record of cases of sleep disorders or irritability due to windmills. But residents have been medicating for headaches. Remuben Thakur from Vandhiya village, 7 km from Jangi, said that once every quarter, a private doctor visits their village. “He gives me some medicine for my headache,” she said.
Remuben also suffers from sleep troubles – if she wakes up because of the noise of the windmill, she struggles to sleep again. When she sleeps in her farm, her body can sense the vibration of the windmill. “My head feels dizzy when I do farming,” she said.
In Jangi, a few narrow snaky lanes away from the health centre, Maliben Ahir, whose house is closest to the windmill, lay on her charpoy, soaking in the afternoon sun and batting away flies when we visited her. There was no wind, so the blades of the wind turbine were still – a good time to sleep outdoors. Ahir’s son got a security guard’s job at one of the windmills, which is the family’s sole income source. “But that noise does not let us sleep,” she said.
Private companies that have installed windmills in the region are not oblivious to such complaints.
Nayan Panchal, an environment officer at Suzlon Energy Limited’s office in Kachchh’s Nakhatrana village, said, “We still get many complaints from villagers living next to windmills about the noise.” He said that Suzlon monitors the noise from the windmills. “If the noise is under 45 decibels in the night, and under 55 decibels in the day, we consider it fine,” Panchal said, referring to the levels prescribed by the Centre Pollution Control Board.
When asked why the company was still receiving complaints, despite adhering to these levels, Panchal said, “It’s now mostly under control.” This was at odds with Scroll’s observations on the ground, of locals continuing to suffer from the noise.
Panchal also said that the company receives complaints from residents about the flickering shadows cast over properties near the windmills by the moving blades, especially at nights. But he said he was not aware of any measures taken to tackle this problem. Scroll emailed Suzlon, seeking a response on locals’ complaints – the company had not responded at the time of publishing.
The windmills have also hurt land quality and agriculture in the area.
“Many investors and financial instruments that fund these wind turbines have strict ecological and social requirements as a part of their due diligence,” CEEW’s Agarwal said. She explained that many developers would have to conduct these as part of preparing their financial disclosure documents.
But across the region, several farmers and landowners spoke of problems that had arisen after the construction of windmills.
In Vandhiya village, Remuben Thakur pointed to a farm around 500 metres away, where a mighty windmill stood. “The land was Haribhai’s,” she said. “He sold it to a company for installing a windmill, and now he works in a salt manufacturing unit.”
Her husband Khethabhia Thakur gestured towards a stack of jowar, or sorghum, in their own farm, next to the land that was once Haribhai’s, and said, “Look at how short the crop is. We had tall, healthy crops of jowar before the windmill came.”
There is limited research on how windmills can affect soil, but several farmers – though not all – said they had noticed a decline in crop production and crop quality after windmills were installed in their vicinity.
Less than 5 km away, in the adjacent village of Modpar, a 62-year-old farmer named Akhai Hari also spoke of problems with agriculture. “In five years, my land has changed,” Hari said. His annual crop production, he said, had reduced by 25%. His mother, Samaben Hari, who is in her nineties, added, “Nothing can grow on the land where windmills are located.”
The problem is particularly vexing because Hari sold 2.25 acres of his own land for the windmills. On the remaining adjacent 3.75 acres, he continues to grow jowar, green gram and black gram.
In their verandah, Hari, his wife and Samaben sat sipping tea with their, neighbour Devji Ambavi Patel. Patel said that he had advised Hari against selling the land for a windmill, but that the latter did not heed his advice. Hari explained, “I needed money then and the broker offered Rs 3.75 lakh for 2.25 acres.”
Now the windmill is 300 metres from Patel’s home, although guidelines issued by the ministry of new and renewable energy mandate that they should be installed at least 500 metres from the nearest home. The sound prevents him from sleeping peacefully. “My son is requesting all other villagers to not sell their land to set up a windmill,” Patel said.
Twenty kilometres from Jangi, in Chandrodi village, sarpanch Lalji Ahir also observed problems with agriculture on his 10-acre farmland, where his family grows sorghum, green gram, and cotton. A windmill stands about 100 metres away. “The production has reduced,” he said. He added that his annual income “had gone down from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh”.
A 2014 paper that analyses available literature argues that vegetation could be affected by proximity to windmills – though the paper cautions that more scientific studies would be needed to draw definite conclusions. It noted that changes in wind speed and air turbulence due to the installation of windmills, and other land-based renewable energy systems, “may affect humidity” and other micro-climatic conditions, thereby also impacting vegetation. It “hypothesises” that increases in night-time temperatures and day-time cooling induced by wind farms “will accelerate soil decomposition and reduce photosynthesis respectively”.
Apart from changing climate, some farmers said that they had observed a change in the groundwater table after the windmills were installed. Rajabhai Karamta, who has worked as a manager for several windmill sites, said he had noticed that in some instances, local well water had even turned salty.
A Northern Ireland Environment Agency report noted that, “The development of a wind farm has the potential to impact on groundwater quality, groundwater quantity and/or the established groundwater flow regime.”
The agency listed several such impacts at different stages of windmills’ functioning – specifically, during construction, operation, and decommissioning.
The report noted that harmful effects could include a reduction in the water table, disturbance of contaminated soil, and pollution from leaks or spills of oils used as lubricants, and other substances.
The report advised an environment impact assessment, or EIA, before choosing a site for a windmill. In India, however, wind and solar projects are exempt from EIAs.
The 2006 notification of the environment ministry that introduced EIAs also mandated that for every project that needed environmental clearance, the project proponent had to hold public consultations before submitting the proposal to the ministry for clearance. During these, the communities impacted by the project can document their concerns about the project and the assessment report. Based on this, the project developer has to make appropriate changes in the EIA, before the proposal is discussed by the environment ministry’s appraisal committee. However, since windmills are exempted from EIA, public consultations too, are not held.
“This is a dangerous situation,” environmentalist Vidrohi said. “Nobody is checking the probable impact of these projects on the local environment.”
Ransod Patel, who was the sarpanch of Jangi in 2009, when the windmills began to be installed, said that the panchayat initially assented when approached for permission for the work, on the assumption that “it was a government project”. But, he added, they did not issue formal no-objection certificates, and it was only later that they learnt that the project was owned by private companies.
Panchayat officials in Shikarpur and Chandrodi, too, said that they did not issue no-objection certificates for the windmills and that no consultations were held with them. They recounted that after buying private plots, companies would convert them to non-agricultural land through the district office and then set up windmills.
In Jangi, Rabari scanned the clear blue sky. “Subah ki kilor band hai,” the chirping has stopped in the mornings, he said. He pointed to a lone flying kunj, or Siberian crane. “Earlier, we saw hordes of them,” he said. “Now the numbers are lower.”
The region is rich in avian biodiversity, and acts as a temporary home to the migratory cranes, which arrive every winter to breed in the marshes, mangroves, and wetlands, and lapwings that fly from Kazakhstan and Russia. For the rest of the year, Kutch is a permanent home to storks, sarus cranes, crows, vultures, sparrows and peacocks.
Rabari observed that the numbers of all these birds had been diminishing for five years. He added that they were often hit by the blades, and that this problem, along with the noise of the turbines, had driven away several birds.
Ramesh K Selvaraj, a scientist with the Bombay Natural History Society, also confirmed this. In a study that his team conducted between 2011 and 2014 in Samakhiali, they found 47 instance of bird mortalities near wind turbines, of which one was of a painted stork, a “near threatened” species and another was of the “vulnerable” dalmatian pelican. The report also warned that the long-term impacts of wind farms on raptors – birds of prey like hawks and eagles – were of particular concern, since they produce few offspring and occupy the top of the food chain; any drastic changes to their populations, thus, could destabilise the entire food chain.
“We found that the abundance of species was lesser in wind farm areas,” Selvaraj told Scroll.
The decline they observed included of shrub-occurring species, likely because shrubs are cleared as a part of regular maintenance in wind farm areas, Selvaraj explained. “Noise and disturbance could also be a reason why some avian species did not want to go back to their original habitat,” he said.
Selvaraj added that monitoring bird species after the construction of windmills was crucial to ensure their populations weren’t destroyed. He noted that the Bombay Natural History Society had contributed to the creation of a tool named Avistep, which is currently operational in four countries. The tool allows users to determine the vulnerability of bird populations in different regions, for different renewable energy projects, including onshore wind, offshore wind and solar projects.
Peacocks, India’s national bird, are the prime victim of habitat modification here. Their sightings have reduced in Jangi, Vandhiya and Modpar villages and increased in Liliyana, a village four kilometres away from Jangi.
On a crisp February morning, dozens of peacocks and peahens lazed around a leafy compound around a temple in Liliyana.
Mahendra Sadhu, a local, said their village decided early on to resist the entry of wind turbines into the area by refusing to sell private land, even as the turbines were proliferating in nearby villages. “Our village does not have a single windmill,” he said.
As windmills drive them away, peacocks from nearby villages have increasingly moved closer to Liliyana. “Their numbers are rising fast in our village. We can hear their call everywhere,” Sadhu said.
Over 100 km from Jangi, in Sangnara, an arid village near Bhuj that has seven windmills, residents have already begun protesting against the deaths of peacocks, demanding a post mortem every time the bird is found dead near a wind turbine. Peacocks are listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 – under the law, it is mandatory for the forest department to conduct an autopsy when one dies, to identify the cause of death. This, locals say, will force the administration to at least formally acknowledge each instance in which a peacock is killed by a turbine.
Farmer and sarpanch of Sangnara Shankar Patel said that since 2016, when the first windmill was installed, several peacocks have been electrocuted in the high-tension wires passing from the turbine’s power grid or suffered collisions with its blades. “Every time this happens, we go to the local police to register a complaint,” he said. “We force forest officials to conduct a post mortem. But nothing happens beyond that.”
Suzlon’s Panchal said that some other companies had guidelines to prevent bird mortalities. “They add rubber to transmission lines to prevent electrocution, and also install bird diverters,” he said. Bird diverters are reflective devices on transmission lines that, from a distance, deter birds from approaching the wires. He added that Suzlon did not have any such guidelines, other than that bird mortalities had to be reported to the company.
It is not just avian species that have been impacted in this region due to the windmills, but mammals as well. In Kachchh’s Shikarpur, a village famous as an archaeological site, where remnants of the Indus Valley civilisation can still be found, windmills have threatened the light-brown-and-white-coloured wild ass, a species categorised as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Shikarpur is located on the periphery of the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary, formed in 1972 to protect the only surviving population of the animal, which are around the size of zebras. “Earlier we saw them loiter near the village. They would run as soon as they saw us. Now I hardly see them,” said Vibha Rabari, whose wife is the Shikarpur village sarpanch. He fondly referred to them as gadhera, or donkey, and said there were once over 200 of them living near his village. “Now reduced to a dozen perhaps,” he said.
In 2015, the then principal chief conservator of forest gave permission to a company named Vestas Wind Technology India to install seven windmills inside the sanctuary. This was despite the fact that a centrally empowered committee had rejected the company’s proposal in 2013, and was against a set of guidelines issued by the environment ministry in 2004, which stated that areas like wildlife sanctuaries and national parks “should not be considered for wind energy farms”.
“The sound of the windmill irritates the donkey,” Vibha Rabari said. “Moreover, there are illegal salt pans destroying their habitat. They have started moving away to other parts.” He pulled out a bunch of papers from a white polythene bag. “I wrote these letters,” he said. The last, dated December 2022, was to the collector and forest department about the encroachment in the sanctuary. “But they did nothing,” he said.
He pointed eastwards of Shikarpur, where several smaller villages – Manaba, Khodasar, Rajthali – were located. As the wild ass’s habitat shrunk, he explained, their movement into these villages to seek refuge had increased.
The result is havoc in farms. Every night, farmer Ambabhai Patel has to either personally go or send someone to guard his cotton fields in Manaba village from the asses. “These donkeys come at night and eat our crops,” he said. “Every farmer is fed up here.”
The problem has increased over the last few years. Patel argued that the salt pans were the more significant factor in the donkeys’ displacement. Dr Dhaval Gadhavi, a deputy conservator of forest, who is in charge of the wild ass sanctuary, noted that in February, the forest department began a drive to remove illegal salt pan encroachments from the sanctuary land. In the case of the windmills, however, he said, though the department wanted to remove them, “the owner of it has moved to court. It is a sub judice matter now.”
In 1989, Lamba, a windswept, sea-facing village, which today has a population of 8,000 residents, became the site of one of Asia’s first wind farms. By the end of last century, it had more than 200 windmills. But Lamba also serves as a reminder of another problem pertaining to windmill farms: specifically, that defunct windmills present a serious environmental problem to the areas where they are installed.
Today, 34 years later, the vast landscape between Lamba and the sea, 3 km away, is haphazardly dotted with over 100 windmills: according to an estimate of a security staffer who works on the site, only 50 or so are functional today. The rest of them are defunct, having completed their shelf lives, and several are half-broken, even on the verge of collapse. The defunct ones, which are the earliest that were installed in the area, belong to Gujarat Energy Development Agency, or GEDA, the state nodal agency for renewable energy.
Octogenarian Dwarkadas Raichura was the village sarpanch in the second half of 1980s. He recounted that assembly elections were approaching when, during one of the political rallies, a local politician introduced an officer from GEDA. “He said he went to many villages with a proposal to set up windmills. All of them said no. He asked us if we were willing to partner with the government and lease our land,” Raichura said.
Raichura recounted that they made two demands before agreeing: that the village’s grazing land not be taken away, and that the roads leading to the windmills should not affect agriculture in the area.
The village panchayat leased 600 acres of their land to GEDA for 50 years and the agency installed 52 windmills, Raichura said. He added, “Ours was the first village in this belt. After that private players began coming in. Other villages too began to strike deals.”
The windmills did benefit the village economically. Land prices, he said, rose from Rs 20,000 per acre to Rs 3 lakh per acre, allowing some landowners to earn significant sums by selling parts or the entirety of their property.
But the village is also a site of wreckage, and carries memories of a catastrophic tropical cyclone in 1998 that is estimated to have killed nearly 10,000 people in Gujarat. Rajabhai Karamta, who had a job maintaining the windmills at the time, remembers sleeping out in the fields when he heard the wind roar in the middle of the night.
While a wind turbine can typically withstand a wind speed of 60 metres per second, wind speeds in the 1998 cyclone exceeded 120 metres per second.
The wind turbines of GEDA were small, of 200 KW capacity, mounted on iron and steel towers that resembled the Eiffel Tower. “The cyclone twisted the towers, it threw the blades far away,” Karamta said. “There was a whirlwind of sand and dust everywhere. I saw it with my own eyes.” While many turbines of GEDA were destroyed, he said, some owned by other companies, which were much sturdier, survived.
Across three wind farms on the Saurashtra coast, one-third of the windmills were damaged. Even after two decades, the wreckage continues to lie around in Lamba. “GEDA officials keep saying they plan to clear this, but they never get to it,” Karamta, who retired several years ago, said. Scroll emailed GEDA to inquire about its plans to clear the wreckage, but had not received a response at the time of publishing.
Blades are strewn on the vast terrain, half damaged towers stand bent, and pieces of the turbine lie on the ground, rusting away. Rajshri Dhokia, a 69-year-old farmer, suffered when the wreckage of a windmill harmed his farming activity. He sold one of his parcels of land for a windmill, which in 2003 malfunctioned, causing the entire windmill to fall. “One of the blades fell on my farm and went 2-3 feet deep,” Dholakia said, “It destroyed our crops.”
He said that no technician came to remove the wreckage for many years, and that it soon began rusting. “For five years we could not do farming on that land,” Dholakia said. “The company eventually burnt the blade in my farm itself.”
The blades are made of fibreglass – when they are burnt, their minute fibres become airborne and can easily be inhaled or ingested by humans. This can cause eye, nose and throat irritation; with long term exposure, the particles can become lodged in the lung and airway. A United States Environmental Protection Agency study also found that burning fibreglass releases several pollutants, including toxic arsenic, benzene, and carbon monoxide.
For this reason, disposal of a windmill through incineration is not an option, as Vaisakh Suresh Kumar, senior project associate at World Resources Institute, pointed out. “The blades are made of glass fibre reinforced plastic, and it’s very difficult to reuse or degrade on its own. The steel and iron you can still sell or use, but not the blades,” he said. Thus, he added, the blades often add to landfill waste after they are disposed.
CEEW’s Agarwal noted, “At present, India does not have guidelines or policies to handle disposing of windmill parts.” However, Agarwal said that some large manufacturing companies have recycling policies and have made commitments of zero-waste wind turbines by 2040 – that is, they aim to make entire supply chains for the turbines waste-free. Some companies have also committed to recycling the fibreglass, shredding it, and using it as a raw material for cement factories, Agarwal said. Suzlon’s Panchal said that the company has a recycling policy, but declined to elaborate on the details.
Not all locals objected to the waste strewn on their lands. “We are all used to this now,” Karamta said, pointing to parts of a turbine lying on a field. But, he added, “the cattle rearers keep their cows away.” He explained that they fear that the blades might injure their cows.
Environmentalists are also concerned about defunct windmills, which have completed their shelf life of between 20 and 25 years. “Imagine, hundreds of defunct windmills will just lie around in coming years,” Vidrohi said. “They continue to spoil the landscape, the local terrain.”
In 2016, the Indian government introduced a draft “repowering” policy for windmills, which it updated in 2022 based on feedback from industry. The policy aims to increase the efficiency and capacity of old windmills by replacing them with new, larger ones. “Amongst other things, it also allocates the responsibility of safe disposal of windmills and ascertaining its scrap value with the owners of windmills,” Agarwal added. But the policy is yet to be notified.
The draft policy estimated that India can potentially repower windmills whose capacity totalled 25 GW. However, some members of the industry noted that they needed greater clarity on the policy.
“The policy is silent on many aspects of repowering,” said Karunamoorthy, from Windplus. This was particularly challenging because repowering was expensive, he explained – companies would have to invest in areas such as grid infrastructure and the logistics of sites. “There may be new dwellings near the wind turbine,” he said. “A larger capacity turbine will require to be at a particular distance from the closest dwelling.”
Companies also needed information on the price at which they could sell electricity from repowered windmills, he said, adding, “Unless we get clarity, several companies may not go ahead.”
In the last decade, some villages have been opposing the construction of windmills in their vicinity. In Sangnara, for instance, since 2016, each time residents have seen a truck carrying a turbine blade or pole, they have created a blockade to prevent its entry. In 2019, Adani Green Energy planned to install windmills in Sangnara, but constant protests by residents delayed the plan, said Shankar Patel, the village sarpanch.
In Chandrodi, more than a decade after the first windmill was installed in 2006, residents collectively decided to stop selling land to companies setting up windmills, to prevent further installations. Shikarpur’s residents have now also taken the same decision.
“If we don’t fight for our land, who will?” asked Patel.. “Our jungle, trees, thorn forests are getting depleted. Our peacocks are dying,” he said. Patel said it took a few years to gather residents together to take a stand. “Now that we all agree that we don’t want windmills, we will protest everytime a proposal comes our way,” he added.
Meanwhile, researchers maintained that it was crucial to tap into wind energy, but also highlighted the need to deal with the accompanying social and ecological impacts. For CEEW’s Agarwal, the repowering policy holds promise as a framework to guide the management of older windmills and limit their impact on people and the ecology.
Agarwal expressed hope that the new policy would be adopted soon nationally, noting that “some states at their level have begun introducing the concept.” Agarwal said that Karnataka was among the states that had pushed ahead in implementing a repowering policy, and noted that it was promising that an industrial state had taken this significant step. “It’s a good combination to have, since the efficiently produced electricity from wind power can then be sold to industries,” she added.
Researchers are also planning to fill some gaps in understanding of health impacts due to wind turbines. Vidrohi, along with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a collective of health organisations, is planning a study to assess health impacts of windmills on residents of Jangi, and document information about headaches, sleep patterns, and irritation, from those living close to wind turbines, and also understand whether they access healthcare for these problems.
For the years ahead, India is also eyeing offshore windmills, or turbines that are installed in the sea. With a coastline spanning over 7,600 kilometres, and water on three sides, experts note that India is well positioned to tap offshore wind as an energy source.
On Lamba’s shore, Rajabhai Karamta looked into the deep Arabian sea. He explained that while the village is already in talks with a few private companies to set up solar panels and windmills on a piece of land, it was also eager to explore its potential for offshore windmills.
But, research indicates that offshore windmills could also pose a threat to the environment. One paper that reviewed existing literature found that of 867 studied findings, 72% indicated that offshore windmills had negative impacts on the ecosystem. Of these, 32% indicated that offshore windmills had negative effects on birds, 7% that they had negative effects on marine animals, and 2% of the literature that they had negative impacts on fish.
Karamta was hopeful that a solution could be found. “If we can generate electricity and harm nature in the least possible way, nothing better than that,” he said.
This reporting is made possible with support from Report for the World, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.