Dechen Dolkar 

Iron Female Ox Year-Hydropower: The hydropower sector remained the bedrock of Bhutan’s economy during the Covid-19 pandemic but it had its own share of challenges.

A decrease in water flow saw hydropower generation dip 12.7 percent in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a corresponding period in 2020.

Making matters worse, the 1,020MW Tala hydroelectric plant, the biggest plant in the country, was shut down for three days in July with a daily revenue loss of around Nu 55 million. Large chunks of debris due to continuous rainfall for several days clogged the gates of the intake tunnels. The plant has been facing issues ever since.

Again, the plant was shut from the end of December last year to the end of March this year and, the country is likely to lose revenue of about Nu 840 million.

Similarly, the 720MW Mangdechhu power plant in Trongsa lost its turbine number three in September 2020. A flashover has resulted in the burning and carbonisation of stator (a stationary part of a rotary system) windings and other rotor components inside the generator causing an electric short-circuit.

The generation was resumed in August last year after more than 10 months of maintenance. The shutdown resulted in Nu 3.22billion revenue loss.

The government launched a new hydropower policy that explores trilateral regional, sub-regional, regional cooperation in developing hydropower projects in the country in April last year. The policy, which supersedes the hydropower policy of 2008, has come with major changes, including the need to promote multipurpose hydropower projects.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the MHPA, Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma received the Brunel Medal. The Brunel Medal is an award given by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), London to recognise excellence in civil engineering, showcasing excellence in skills, research and innovation.

A contractor in Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project I (PHPA I), Larson & Toubro (L&T), appealed to the Delhi court to resolve issues related to payments and other claims.

L&T had initially approached PI authorities to compensate them Nu 3.91 billion for keeping their machines and human resources idle in 2020. PI’s dispute resolution committee established that L&T’s Nu 3.91 billion claims were not maintainable.

The detailed project report (DPR) for the construction of a barrage instead of a dam at the Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project I (PI) was supposed to be completed by February end.

The decision to construct the barrage came after the right bank of the dam experienced multiple landslides. The project witnessed its first slide in July 2013, followed by a slide in August 2016, and another in January 2019. The fate of the PI will be decided after the DPR.

To expedite work progress, the government prioritised the import of labour for PHPA-II in April last year. Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions and stringent Covid-19 protocols, PII was facing a shortage of about 2,000 workers.

The first batch of workers at PII entered through Phuentsholing in April. The second batch came on November 28 and the third batch entered through Gelephu by January 4. The project is expected to complete by July 2023.

Meanwhile, the Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) signed a contract agreement with Kholongchhu Hydro Energy Limited in May for the construction of part of Head Race Tunnel. CDCL is the first contractor for major civil work packages to sign the contract for Kholongchhu Hydropower Project.

However, there is not much progress in tendering for two of the three main civil works of the project: the construction of the dam and the powerhouse. The construction of the Head Race Tunnel has started.

The pandemic and geological issues forced the second deadline extension of 118MW Nikachu Hydroelectric project delaying its completion to 2023.