Of lofty dreams and ground realities

Yearender/Hydropower: The horse gave up the race half way.  It in fact neighed at the 10,000 MW by 2020 dreams.

The hydropower dream that was under vigorous consideration was dead in the water, as the year progressed.  It was officially believed that 10,000 MW by 2020 would be no longer achievable, and this opinion was confirmed during the empowered joint group meeting held in Delhi on September 18.

The Indian counterpart showed a lack of interest to finance the projects, proposed to be built on an inter-governmental model, because of cost factors.  For instance, the Indian government had declined to finance the 2,640MW Kuri-Gongri, the 2,560MW Sankosh and the 540MW Amochu projects, which are planned in the 2020 vision.

The Indian government had also expressed security concerns on the Amochu project, as it was close to India’s tri-junction.  The DPRs for Sunkosh and Kurigongri have been, however, submitted to the Central Electricity Authority of India.

It came on record that, by 2020, Bhutan would just be able to add about 3,000MW to already existing 1,488MW of power.  Nevertheless, the target is still under review.

Another glitch in the hydropower sector was with the 126MW Dagachu project.  The project, which took off in October 2009 and initially set to complete in August 2013, saw several shifts in the deadline.  Due to geological conditions and the collapse of a tunnel on January 5 last year, it was delayed by more than a year. A new deadline was set for October but, at the eleventh hour of commissioning, hairline cracks were observed on inspection at a few locations in the tunnel.

Although its cost went up by 50 percent, from Nu 8.16B to Nu 12.27B, the power purchase agreement, between Tata Trading Power company  ltd, India, and Dagachu Hydropower corporation (DHPC), was also amended, revising the export tariff from Rs 2.40 to Rs 2.90 a unit.

This besides, the Indian government approved four hydropower projects under joint venture at the 12th empowered joint group (EJG) meeting held in the capital in April.

The 600MW Kholongchu, the 570MW Wangchu, the 770 MW Chamkharchu and the 180MW Bunakha, will be constructed on 50 percent equity shareholding each by public sector companies of India and Druk Green Power corporation (DGPC).

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, during his visit, laid the Kholongchu’s foundation stone, and ancillary works are underway.

The 118MW Nikachu project is also expected to commence soon after it finds a JV partner from India.  Last year, it was also announced that an IPO would be floated for this project to involve public participation.

As for ongoing projects, the whole year of the horse was spent on carrying out remedial measures on the right bank and adjoining hill of the Punatshagchu I dam site, which encountered a geological surprise in 2013.

There is only 15m of the dam excavation left for PHPA I, but the Indian government’s approval in dam construction methodology was pending for six months, which resulted in prolonging the commissioning date from May 2018 to April 2019.

On the other hand, its budgets are dwindling since the project has already exhausted Nu 52.8B received from the Indian government so far.

Punatshangchu II encountered geological problem on the left bank, the headrace tunnel (HRT) and the tailrace tunnel (TRT).  The problems are under control, as of now, and officials are keeping their finger crossed to complete on time.

Works on the 720MW Mangdechu hydropower project in Trongsa has progressed well last year.  It is expected to complete within the estimated cost and on schedule.

The hydropower sector saw a major enhancement last year with the Bhutan Hydropower Service limited (BHSL) coming into being in October.

Called a one-stop hydropower service, BHSL is a joint venture project between DGPC and ALSTOM hydro holdings, France.

The centre is expected to enhance the revenue from hydropower projects, by cutting maintenance cost and time, besides providing employment to around 160 Bhutanese.

During the E3 (Energy, Economy and Environment) conference held in August last year, the managing director of Druk Green Power corporation said that, going by the current pace of developing hydropower projects, in a matter of just five years, Bhutan could be providing consultative services in hydropower sectors in the region.

This was another bold hydropower dream to be fulfilled in the years to come.

Tshering Dorji

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