The PM installed the sa-chu-bum-ter to signal the laying of the dam foundation

 PHPA II: Calling it a milestone achievement for Punatsangchu hydroelectric project authority II (PHPA II), the project will start constructing the dam with the foundation laying ceremony conducted yesterday.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay installed the sa-chu-bum-ter signalling the foundation concreting of the dam, which when completed will rise 86m high, with a width of 213m at the top.  Excavation work at the dam site is still going on and will be done simultaneously with the construction of the dam.

Given that the project started much later than its cousin, Punatsangchu I upstream, whose dam site is bogged down with geological problems, the event was an achievement for the project.  The 1,020MW project was started in December 2010 and is expected to generate 4,357 million units of electricity on an average every year.

At the foundation concreting ceremony, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that, three years from now, PHPA II would be generating 1,020MW of power, and within a distance of 15km upstream, there is PHPA I, which would also be generating 1,200MW.

These projects, he said, symbolise the friendship between Bhutan and India.  He commended the hard work put in by the project officials from the two countries, contractors and project staff.

The Indian ambassador to Bhutan, Gautam Bambawale, said the foundation concreting of the dam was a major milestone for the ambitious hydroelectric projects, jointly done by the two countries. “Our cooperation in hydro electric projects and the experiences we share through the projects are above all other sectors.”

With skeptics arguing that the country is putting all eggs in the hydroelectric project basket, the ambassador said that it was the people of Bhutan who would decide whether to expand the hydropower capacity or stop at a certain point. “Many people in Bhutan ask me, whether we should limit our hydropower generation capacity,” said the ambassador. “It’s the view of the government of India that this is the question, which can be answered only by Bhutanese people themselves.”

He said the government of India would respect the views and decision of Bhutanese people. “Just as we’ve provided our assistance in the past and present for the establishment of hydropower generation, so do we respect the decision of people to expand hydropower generation or not.”

PHPA II officials said, although the project is set to complete by 2017 December, it is running behind by about six months, following an adverse geological problem faced on the left bank of the dam site, and at about 700m length of the headrace tunnel, tailrace tunnel and the underground cavern.

The delay however, is being retrieved to whatever extent possible by inducting additional resources and adopting acceleration measures, officials said.

Officials also said the project has received Nu 25.30B (billion) from the government of India till February end, of which Nu 24.20B was the expenditure for the project, and Nu 7.61B was disbursed to Bhutanese agencies.

PHPA II has 860 staff, of which 808 are Bhutanese and 52 Indians.  The overall manpower deployed at the project by the PHPA and its contractors is 6,265.  Initial cost estimation as per the detailed project report for PHPA II is Nu 37.78B and the revised cost is Nu 75B.

Meanwhile, the prime minister also congratulated the managing director of PHPA I and II, RN Kazanchi, for getting a three-year extension to work in the country.

The economic affairs minister, lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, high level officials from DGPC, PHPA I and II officials, district heads, project staff and other related officials from Wangdue and Punakha attended the ceremony.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue