Though techno-economically viable, both encroach core areas of Sakteng wildlife sanctuary

Hydropower: When Druk Green Power corporation (DGPC) dug boreholes to carry out geotechnical studies in some parts of Sakteng last year, villagers assumed that the long awaited Gamrichu hydropower projects were finally taking off.

Today, after about seven months, locals claim they are yet to see any progress.  The issue was also raised during the recent dzongkhag tshogdu in Trashigang, where it was resolved that the matter would be forwarded to DGPC.

Sakteng gup Tshewang Tshering said that the probability of coming up with two hydropower projects, Gamrichu I and Gamrichu II, was planned during the tenure of the former government.

“Project sites were surveyed and pre-feasibility studies (PFS) were also carried out. Still, we’re yet to hear from the concerned authority,” he said. “Villagers of the four upper gewogs are banking on the project for economic development prospects.”

Gamrichu I project spans from Sakteng to Thrakti section of Gamrichu, while Gamrichu II project lies in the Thrakti to Tholong segment.  While Gamrichu I is proposed as a 45MW project, Gamrichu II is expected to generate 85MW of electricity.  Optimisation studies during the detailed project report (DPR) stage indicated increased installed capacities.

DGPC managing director (MD), Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, said that the pre-feasibility reports for Gamrichu I and II were submitted to the department of hydropower & power systems (DHPS) toward the end of 2014.

He said that the choice of projects for moving to the pre-feasibility, feasibility and detailed report stages was based on a multi criteria analysis that is undertaken by the DHPS under the economic affairs ministry.

“Gamrichu I and II projects were identified for PFS through such an analysis in 2012. Both the projects are high head projects and techno-economically viable,” he said.

In the early 1990s, Bhutan prepared a Power System Master Plan (PSMP) for the whole country and updated the PSMP in 2004-05.  The PSMP identified some 76 techno-economically viable potential hydropower sites across the country, of which five fall along the Gamrichu basin.

“The Gamrichu I and II hydropower projects are amongst these 76 identified sites, and both rank quite high in their techno-economic viability vis-à-vis the other sites,” he said.

Once all the PFS are ready, a multi criteria analysis will be conducted and it is expected that two of the better projects will be approved for DPR from amongst all the projects for which the PFSs were prepared.

Though both the projects are likely to be ranked high in their techno-economic viability to move forward to the DPR stage, the projects lie within the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary, with most of the components of the Gamrichu I project falling in the core zone.  The left bank of the Gamrichu II dam also abuts with the core zone.

“Although a motorable road has been considered for the people of Sakteng, it’s not very clear if a hydropower project could be cleared for development within a wildlife sanctuary,” the MD said. “However, relevant agencies were consulted and approvals taken for the preparation of the PFS.”

He added that the investment decision in terms of project structuring would be considered once the DPR is initiated.  Since both the projects are not very large, any model of project structuring from DGPC going at it alone to entering into joint ventures could be possible.

Should the projects get a green signal, they are estimated to cost around Nu 10 billion but are subject to change once the DPR is complete.

Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang