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You ain’t seen nothing yet

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

The bad news is that despite us being in the middle of the monsoon, NEA has just raised power rationing to seven hours daily. Even worse news is that this winter there will be electricity for only four hours a day.

Load-shedding is now a given, and like with all other shortages in this country, people have adapted just like organisms adapt to small incremental doses of poison. But nothing is going to prepare us as individuals, families and as a country to the looming dark winter ahead.

There are lots of excuses for the current crisis. The conflict delayed big projects like Middle Marsyangdi and Kali Gandaki A. In the absence of storage projects the time of peak winter demand had the lowest generation capacity from run-of-the-river schemes.

But Nepal’s successive rulers can’t say they had no warning. Alarm bells have been ringing for decades. Politicians were distracted by fighting, by infighting, by greed and corruption, but by and large, they were just breathtakingly incompetent. The prolonged transition since 2006 has meant that there was either no political will, or too much political interference to recognise and resolve the emergency.

Which is why we are now faced with the spectre of 20-hour power cuts this winter. Despite all the warnings, only 8MW of power was added to the grid in the last fiscal year, while the increase in demand was 80MW. This fiscal year is even worse: demand has grown by another 90MW, but there has been zero augmentation in supply. Not even in the worst-government country in the world is there such ineptitude and lack of response from the state. It is a great leap backward to the dark ages.

To shed some light into the crisis let us look at the short-term projections. In five years, demand is set to rise to 1500MW which means we will need an installed capacity of 4500MW to cover for the winter deficit. The projects expected to be completed in the next few years, including Upper Tamakosi, Upper Trisuli 3A and 3B, and Chamelia, will only add 586MW to the grid. Which means the shortfall is here to stay for the next five years, even if those projects are completed on schedule. But at the rate at which licenses are being revoked, and then re-issued, that is not likely.

Foreign investors are being harassed either by the government, by local extortionists, or by the hydro mafia. Projects that were on the verge of starting construction have had their licenses revoked, local opposition has stalled three big projects with Indian investment, like Arun III, Budi Gandaki and Upper Karnali. The Brazilian investor, Engevix, is on the verge of pulling out of the 400MW Lower Arun.

The only long-term solution is to start building new plants in the 2,000 MW range right away, and even better if they are storage projects like the West Seti. For that to happen, Nepal needs to be more investment-friendly, tariffs need to be revised to make it worthwhile and the bureaucratic hurdles need to be smoothened.

NEA has said that the reason for the electricity shortfall this monsoon season was less than average rainfall in July and August and the grid collapse in northern India which lead to the reduction of Nepal’s power import. What they fail to mention is the real reason: incompetence, corruption, mismanagement and political interference.

To be sure, things have been moving. In the last government the UML Energy Minister Gokarna Bista tried to remove the log jam on projects until his government was removed. The former parliament’s Committee on Natural Resources completed the most detailed analysis yet of the problems and recommended solutions. Prime Minister Bhattarai doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel, he should just read that report and get into action. Among the recommendations:

•Political consensus on future strategy
•Generate enough power to meet domestic demand for value-added industry and only then export
• Immediately commission a reservoir project in each development zone
• Unbundle transmission and distribution, address inefficiencies, corruption, pilferage in the NEA

Power used to come out of the barrel of a gun for the Prime Minister’s party. It should now come out of a hydro-electric turbine. If there is one thing the Nepali people will thank Baburam Bhattarai for, it will not be the token gesture of riding a Mustang, but acting now so there will be no power cuts by 2018.

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2 Responses to “You ain’t seen nothing yet”

  1. krishna S. on Says:

    Eighteen hours of loadshedding! A new record! YEAYYY!!
    Hell it doesn’t affect “US”. “We” got new powerful inverters/ Generators / Ten lakh rupees new solar systems!

  2. baun power on Says:

    That’s what you get when Jardi’s rule the world. Infighting, selfishness and so on and so forth.

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