Hydropower: “Do we want Gross National Happiness and be the poorest country in the world?” ssked Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, managing director of Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) while speaking at a seminar titled “Powering Bhutan’s Future: The Path Ahead for Hydropower” in Thimphu on July 22.

“Or, do we want to be rich enough to be happy?” he asked at the seminar was organised by the QED Group.

“I think it’s better to be rich enough to be happy so that we don’t have to go around with a begging bowl,” said Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, who spoke in favour of making the best of the country’s water resources.

Bhutan, he said, has two clear guiding principles promulgated by His Majesty The King. The first is that the water resources belong to the people of Bhutan and that the country should derive the maximum benefits from them. The second is the need to build human capital within the country. “Do we have human capital and the willingness to take on this responsibility?” he asked. “How long can we depend on expertise from outside?”

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that the hydropower-related issues like the national debt and environmental problems are not endemic to Bhutan. Switzerland and Norway too have taken great strides in hydropower development and are still looking to develop more.

Discussions for trilateral hydropower cooperation among Bhutan, India and Bangladesh are underway.

“This is good. Later, countries will have to look at Bhutan for their energy needs,” said Dasho Chhewang Rinzin.

He said that the people should not be worried about debts related to hydropower projects. “As long as the there is return from those debts and we are able to service them, we should not be worried.”

The USA, he said, has a debt of USD 19 trillion for example, which according to him comes to about USD 60,000 for every citizen of the country. “Similarly, in the Bhutanese context, if you don’t take loans, you won’t become rich. Without loans, how will you finance the projects?”

Environmental and social issues that crop up naturally so, he added, are not endemic to Bhutan.

With an installed generation capacity of 1,614MW – a little over five percent of Bhutan’s potential of 30,000MW – the annual contribution from the hydropower sector to the government exchequer hovers around 26 percent of direct revenues and constitutes 14 percent of GDP.

If pursued at the present rate, it could be feasible to achieve 10,000MW by 2030, according to a press release from the QED Group.

It stated, as of recent years, certain quarters of the Bhutanese population have also started to express deep concerns on a number of emerging issues such as the quality of the detailed project reports vis-à-vis the geotechnical problems surfacing during construction.

The huge cost escalations in the implementation of the projects, the experience with negative social and environmental impacts, and the burgeoning debt levels of the country that are being attributed to hydropower projects.

MB Subba