With the electrification of Soe and Lingzhi in Thimphu and Jigmecholing in Sarpang last year, 99.97 percent of the households in the country have been provided with electricity as of today.

At the end of the 10th Plan, 94 percent electricity coverage was achieved.

While the Bhutan 2020 vision document targeted to provide electricity for all by 2020, in the 10th Plan, it was revised, setting the deadline to 2013.

The remaining 0.03 percent constitutes 300 households in Lunana, which is about seven days journey on foot across the high mountain passes.

It is Bhutan Power Corporation’s (BPC) first time constructing distribution lines and substations at an altitude of more than 4,000m in Soe and Lingzhi. Lunana is 5,100m above sea level.

BPC’s chief executive officer, Gem Tshering during the annual DHI press conference said that electrification of Lunana is a “tough nut to crack.”

He said that the company had done a preliminary study, which concluded that it could be done.   

“But availability of fund is an issue,” he said adding that the company is in touch with a Korean and a Nepalese firm that can perform this task.

“It does not make sense for a DHI company to invest huge amount just for 1,500 people and a negligible return,” Gem Tshering said. “We ensure than every penny we made is utilised in a productive way.”

He added that BPC is a utility company and that the policy makers at a different level do the planning. “If we have the authority, we would have invested,” he said. “But the money has to be pumped back to the government.”

As for electrification of Lunana, he said the DHI, economic affairs ministry and BPC is discussing on all the possible means and alternative options.

To pull the transmission lines, the CEO said that transportation of poles and transformers is an issue. Until Punakha, he said transportation could be done through road. Airlifting transformers is an option, but not with the kind of chopper the country has. “We need bigger choppers and the cost is again an issue,” he said.

While 99.97 percent is as good as 100 percent, he said; “We cannot breathe in peace unless we electrify Lunana.”

Even for Soe and Lingzhi, the initial plan was to construct a mini hydel by the department of renewable energy. As the quoted price by the contractor was more than the available fund, the plan could not materialise and extension of grid was considered from Paro. A total of 87.9Km of LV lines were constructed with 33 distribution substations to electrify 202 households at a cost of Nu 201M. This was funded by Austrian Development Agency.

Some of the challenges, the BPC highlighted in its annual report in achieving the last mile of rural electrification were the inaccessibility of work sites, transportation, harsh weather conditions and difficult terrains. These factors made it difficult to retain labourers.

Right of way and clearance issue has emerged in developing new power infrastructure, which has resulted in delays.

Tshering Dorji