29 May - 5 June 2015 #760

Back to the dark age

Nepal’s plan to end electricity rationing by 2017 will not be met because of earthquake damage
Om Astha Rai

The first earthquake on 25 April damaged three hydropower plants, under construction on the Trisuli River in Rasuwa district. Then, as if it was pre-planned, the 12 May aftershock had its epicenter in Dolakha district where the mammoth 456MW Upper Tama Kosi is being built.

AFTERMATH: The penstock pipe of the Bhote Kosi hydropower plant has been badly damaged, its powerhouse submerged (below) and access roads blocked by landslides. Photos: Bhote Kosi Power Company

Existing hydropower plants like the Bhote Kosi (pic, above)were also severely damaged, knocking out 100MW from the grid. Last week, the fear of a flash flood on the Kali Gandaki due to landslide blockage upstream closed down Nepal’s biggest hydropower plant for two days.

Luckily, power rationing has been kept in check because of the increased flow on rivers as well as the temporary reduction in demand from Kathmandu Valley as 1.2 million people left the capital in the aftermath of the quakes.

“This is a huge setback to Nepal, we will need a lot of time and money to recover fully,” says Ram Gopal Siwakoti of Chilime Hydropower Company, which the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) is building in Rasuwa.

Construction, even, in hydropower plants that were not damaged have been halted because the access roads have been blocked by landslides, and workers have gone home to help their families rebuild.  

A preliminary report by Independent Power Producers Association Nepal (IPPAN) shows the earthquake has thrown at least 42 mega and small hydropower plants out of operation. Three more hydropower plants developed by government entities have also been shut down.

If the damaged hydropower plants cannot be repaired quickly, NEA will be forced to ration power for the rest of the year, especially in the winter. Its goal of ending load-shedding by 2017 is not likely to be met.

The Bhote Kosi (45 MW) and Trisuli (24 MW) are two of the bigger existing projects hit by the quake. Although damage suffered by Trisuli is not as serious and can be repaired in less than a month, the penstock pipe of the Bhote Kosi has been badly damaged, its powerhouse submerged and access road also blocked by landslides. Repairs could take up to a year.

The much-delayed Upper Tama Kosi (456 MW) was scheduled for completion next year, but its main weir has subsided by 17 cm, and the access road to Charikot has been blocked by gigantic rockfall that will take months to clear.    “We are looking at a minimum of six-month delay,” says Ganesh Neupane of the Upper Tama Kosi project. “And every month of delay means costs go up.”

Upper Trisuli 3A (60 MW) was also expected to start generating power next year. But the Chinese contractors have left and work has been halted indefinitely.

The delay in the completion of mega projects like Upper Tamakosi and Upper Trisuli is a huge blow to Nepal’s plan to reduce power outage to less than two hours from winter 2017. Says Neupane, “No matter how much effort we make, meeting our target is now not possible and we will have to grapple with power outage for more years.”

Construction of several other mega projects like the 216 MW Upper Trisuli 1 project were all set to begin right when the earthquakes struck. The fate of all these projects now hangs in the balance.

IPPAN President Khadga Bahadur Bista says operating plants can be repaired but the under-construction and ready-to-go projects now face a huge uncertainty. “None of these will be able to meet their commercial operation dates,” he says. “The earthquake turned out to be the most devastating blow to Nepal’s energy sector after the Maoist war.”

Bista says the earthquake has exhausted investors and entrepreneurs physically and mentally, but adds: “I hope this will make us stronger. Our confidence is not shaken.” 

Read also:

Landslide blocks Kali Gandaki

Singati after the quake

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