8 Communicators Attended a Renewable Energy Workshop in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu

a man stands at a balcony and takes a photo of smoke from a faraway thermal power plant
8 Communicators Attended a Renewable Energy Workshop in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu

The state of Tamil Nadu finds itself at a unique position not just in India’s race to renewables, but globally. As mainland India’s southernmost state, its proximity to the equator and long coastline makes for high solar and wind potential. Currently, 20.88% of all the energy demand in the state is met by renewable energy, and the state is hoping to tap into other renewable sources like tidal, ocean-thermal, biomass and small hydel as well. Tamil Nadu is estimated to have the ninth largest installed renewable energy capacity in the world. 

However, everything is not rosy on the road towards renewables. Wind energy production has plateaued since 2012, but the Tamil Nadu government is positive that it will be able to overcome challenges and push for renewable growth at the individual consumer level and by targeting larger manufacturing industries and farmers. The state government has proposed that by 2030, contributions from renewables will increase to 50% through additional capacity creation. To fast-track this process, the government plans to roll out a supportive new energy policy.

At this crucial moment in time, it is important for citizens and the media to keep an eye on these promises and raise questions at necessary points to ensure that the energy transition is both timely and just for all. To aid communicators to understand the intricacies of this transition, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) hosted a workshop from October 25-27, 2023, for communicators in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.   

The eight communicators who were selected to attend were:  

  • Jeff Joseph Paul Kadicheeni, independent journalist 
  • Jeyalakshmi MM, Dinamalar Daily 
  • Jeyalakshmi Renga Ramanujam, The New Indian Express  
  • P. Senthilkumar, Pasumai Vikatan 
  • R. S. Sumedh, industrial economist 
  • S. Godson Wisely Dass, The New Indian Express  
  • Thenarasan V., Vikatan Group 
  • P. Lingesswaran, communications student at Madurai Kamaraj University

On the first day of the workshop, participants and speakers gathered on a terrace and observed the smoke rising out of several thermal plants along the horizon. Godson Wisely Dass, a local journalist with The New Indian Express, shared how the district once had many more coal-powered stations and they were the cause of severe air pollution. However, the state’s push for renewables, coupled with the fact that many thermal plants were reaching their point of closure, meant that it would soon be as likely for one to observe a great number of windfarms and solar fields, he said.  

Tamil Nadu is endowed with four mountain passes along which are installed most of the windfarms as they record the best wind speeds. Thoothukudi district lies south of the Shencottah pass and is dotted all over with windmills. 

With the government and private players working together to accelerate the state’s renewable progress, participants gathered to learn more from experts about the current state of wind and solar power, so that they could identify the stories that needed to be researched and told to build a more informed readership. 

The speakers urged them to focus on specific areas while reporting. Francis Jayasurya from the Global Wind Energy Council spoke of the existence and growing potential of private industry in wind energy, but pointed out that the growth of the industry was hampered by the lack of policy willingness.  

a man points at a board during a presentation
Francis Jayasurya demonstrates how height and distance are key determinants of wind energy production / Credit: Manasi Pinto.

E. Ulagamani and U. Pandimani, two solar entrepreneurs from the state, invited participants to think about why rooftop solar, which is projected to meet 40% of the country’s needs, hadn’t managed to take off anywhere, least of all in Tamil Nadu. 

S. Jeyakumar and Manikanda Perumal from Vayulo solutions urged communicators to look at the problems of storage and transmission, as these were issues that were going to emerge down the line, even if the targets of renewables were met. 

Finally, speaking of the challenges of reporting on renewables in Tamil in a way that audiences understand, Professor S. Nagarathinam, from Madurai Kamaraj University, drew the group into a discussion on finding suitable words for a subject that is so heavily steeped in English jargon. 

Moving on to more practical skills building, the group had their first brush with mobile journalism when Manon Verchot and Sanshey Biswas showed them how their own personal smart phones could be employed to tell better stories. The next day, when they visited both a wind farm and a solar field, the team was seen holding up their phone cameras to capture footage for their MoJo stories. 

a woman takes a photo of solar panels
R. Jeyalakshmi takes photos of solar panels to complement her story / Credit: Manasi Pinto.
a man interviews another with solar panels in the background
R.S. Sumedh interviews a solar engineer / Credit: Manasi Pinto.
group interview at solar farm
Participants learn more about the scope of solar energy production in the state / Credit: Manasi Pinto.

The final session on story development yielded an interesting discussion on the impact of wind farms on the ecosystem and biodiversity, the complex issue of land rights in relation to renewable expansion, and the issue of storage and intermittency with renewable energy. 

group photo with wind turbine in background
On the final day, participants discussed their story ideas and reporting plans / Credit: Manasi Pinto.


As the workshop drew to an end, Joydeep Gupta, EJN’s India Project Manager, noted, “Thoothukudi looks set to become a prominent place on India’s renewable energy map, if the government’s plans to generate offshore wind energy come into fruition. That makes it more important for communicators in based in this and nearby parts of Tamil Nadu to understand the nuances of energy transition.”  

Banner image: Thoothukudi, a coastal town of Tamil Nadu, India, was once home to 11 thermal power stations, however many of the plants are shutting down due to a reported inconsistency in power policy and protests by social and environmental groups / Credit: Manasi Pinto.

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