|Boiling Point No. 44 - Linking Household Energy with other Development Objectives (ITDG - ITDG, 2000, 44 p.)|
by Tania Guneratne c/o ITDG Sri Lanka, 5 Lionel Edirisinghe Mawatha, Kirulapone, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka
Nestling in the plains of Suriyawewa in the dry zone of southeast Sri Lanka, is the village of Weniwelara - the site of the win-generated power project begun by the Energy Forum. Energy Forum is an independent body (originally part of IT-Sri Lanka) which has stimulated various alternative energy options in Sri Lanka such as micro-hydro, solar, biogas, and wind energy. With technical support from IT-Sri Lanka, and financed jointly by the UK Department for International Development and the Civil Society Department of the European Community, this project has made history for two reasons. It is the first wind energy project in the country and its ownership and maintenance is in the hands of the recipient community.
The main source of income for this community is farming. Many people had moved to this area over 28 year ago due to lack of land and opportunity for employment in the villages of their origin, over 100 km away. Wilson, one of the villagers, recalled that in the early days they had only fire for all their 'energy' needs. It was only later that the kerosene lamp and the petromax lamp entered their lives. Today various authorities seek to eject them from the land they have cultivated for years for 'development projects', which they are not convinced will improve their lives. The lives of the broad majority is yet constrained by lack of basic amenities, poor sanitation, linkage roads, access to markets, energy supply, and proper health care and education facilities for their children.
How it all began...
IT-Sri Lanka had successfully worked in this area before with Giruwapathu Development Society (GIDES), an NGO in the area that had gained considerable acceptance in the community through IT's Transport Programme. GIDES was begun by Sirimalee, a young woman who had previously been a community development officer of a State/bilateral aid project in the area. The villagers recalled her tireless efforts trekking the area to find out their needs.
The project team knew that without the willing participation of the community this scheme could not be taken forward. The energy use survey conducted by the IT-Sri Lanka team had revealed that out of the 54 households surveyed 28 used automobile batteries, of these 14 had TVs, 22 had radios. However all their lighting needs were met by kerosene oil. This posed a risk; the community recalled a woman's hair catching fire and also damage being caused to household items and clothing. The risk of books catching fire if children fell asleep while studying was a source of frequent worry to parents. The prevalence of snakes and other poisonous creatures in the night was another hazard faced without proper lighting.
Some months after the initial meetings, the Energy team met with a few key individuals of the village who were GIDES members; Ananda, Wilson and Charlis Aiya. They had the vision and the determination to fully participate in what IT and GIDES were trying to do. Ananda explains,
'When the project engineer told us openly "this is an experiment, shall we try it out together", I knew from what I had seen of the world that there was a good chance this would work. However a participation of 20-22 members was needed. The engineers asked to meet about 20 of our neighbours that evening. As the meeting progressed, I knew the feelings of most of those gathered were not very supportive. Their sentiment was - this was not something we had ever seen or experienced before, how could we pledge our effort and hard-earned money on what could be a fruitless cause. By the end of that evening I knew I was not going to turn my back without giving this effort my full support in every possible way'.
From idea to action
Many visits were made by IT's Energy team and GIDES members to the village. Seeing the commitment and conviction of the technical crew and also some of their neighbours, gradually the villages came to see that this idea could become a reality. Selecting the houses was left to the villagers. They had to be located close to each other and not too far from the wind turbine site. GIDES members who were not close to the site needed to accept that they could not be included in this service, although they were in support of the project. Through continuous discussion and facilitation by the IT team and GIDES, the villagers came to understand the need to act with responsibility, keeping in mind collective interest.
The day arrived to measure the distance between the houses to purchase the material for the connecting system to the 22 households that had been selected with their consent. Another bridge had to be crossed; participating households had to pay a deposit of Rs.1000/- , a whole month's subsistence in some instances for a family. This was a difficult decision. Did these householders believe in this project sufficiently to make this deposit. Some gave the money and then took it back; in some cases there were contradictory opinions in one family.
A few months later something to strengthen their confidence took place; the construction materials arrived. Now there was a big scrabble, all the houses measured paid their deposit to join the electricity consumer society. One householder who had asked for 'water instead' now wanted to be included; but measurements had been completed, and it was too late. The collective approach that had been taken ensured that everyone concerned accepted it as so.
All this while, other efforts had been undertaken by GIDES and IT. It was necessary to get the sanction from the relevant authorities to release a suitable tract of land for the wind turbine. Sirimalee, having worked on a project with the government earlier, was able to convince them that this was a valid project and to give it all possible support. Funding proposals had to be meticulously prepared and backing obtained from the UK Department for International Development.
A dream come true...
One evening in June 1998 the wind turbine equipment arrived in the village (Figure 1). The message of its arrival spread like wildfire among the community. Everybody, young and old, rushed to the site. That day the whole village was out near the site helping out with the unloading the 60 foot wind pole, the batteries and related equipment.
Figure 1: The windturbine equipment arrived
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When the supply was finally installed, it was really wonderful... as one woman said, 'a dream come true'. Wilson, talking of their good fortune, said 'what a treasure this light is, now we do not have to struggle with bottle lamps'. Each house had been allocated 100 watts supply (Figure 2). The Energy Forum obtained long lasting economy bulbs at a reduced price. 'Now, to ensure that we don't have trouble from over drawing the batteries, some of us take a walk around the village in the night to check whether some homes are exceeding their allocated use'.
Figure 2: Each house had been allocated 100 watts supply
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Today many people visit this project site. The visitors' book has recorded messages from technical personnel, media, politicians, and foreign groups praising what has been achieved. Many school children come in busloads to view the site. IT contacted the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) to give publicity to this project and received unstinted support to spread the idea as well as carry out a listener survey.
Wind, the God-given primary power on which this technology relies for its energy generation has its ebb period for three months of the year. For this period, the IT energy team has found another option for this community... biogas. Straw, the primary ingredient for this type of biogas plant is abundantly available in the area following the harvest period. Loaded every six months, the biogas plant also provides a useful by-product in the form of manure for home gardening.
What the future holds...
The fruition of their efforts has given the villagers' strength and encouragement in the new-found hope that they can have more fortunate lives in the future. The children now are able to study with much greater ease. No doubt the TV is a more accessible distraction now (Figure 3), but the enthusiasm to study has also grown. Science has become a favourite subject. The children badger the visiting technical assistant to tell them everything about how the wind charged batteries work.
Figure 3: TV is a more accessible distraction
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Through the opportunity for mediation offered by the Electricity Society, users are able to make special arrangements when necessary. Recently a continuous supply of electricity was provided for three days to a family celebrating the coming of age of their daughter.
Today, due to the siting of the project in their village, the community is more confident that they will not be evicted from the land for State development schemes (Figure 4). The long sought for security in their lives has finally arrived.
Figure 4: Wind turbine sited in village
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While they count themselves very fortunate to have got this wind turbine in their village, the villagers are aware of the consistent effort they will have to undertake to protect this facility for the future. Like the joining of hands at various levels that made possible this wind turbine in their village, the villagers hope that the relevant authorities will guide them in maintailning the resource.
Like all things in life, this project is not without its problems; but the community, through the electricity consumer society, have been able to take up these challenges and face them effectively. A case in point is the occasion when a personal conflict between two households led to the sabotage of the wire connection to one house. This was settled to the satisfaction of both parties through the society; the wire connecting their homes to provide them electricity has also become a chain that has enhanced their unity. It has lit up not only their homes but also their entire lives.
We cannot forget however that while this project provides energy to 22 households, the total village consists of 435 households, which means that 413 homes still remain unlit. It is hoped that through the ongoing efforts of the Energy Forum and ITDG, many more village homes like these will be afforded the opportunity to light up their lives.