The electricity is one-tenth the NEA's tariff. There are no power cuts.
Sounds too good to be true. But if you live in rural Palpa these days, like thousands of families, you don't have to suffer the inconvenience of load shedding.
Located 50km from Nepal's biggest hydroelectric project on the Kali Gandaki which generates 144 megawatts of power, Palpa's villages sent petitions to Kathmandu to be hooked up to the grid. But the NEA didn't listen, neither did the politicians.
"We took the matter into our own hands, we said if they're not going to do it for us, we'll do it ourselves," recalls Sushila Gaire of Dobhan in Palpa where 100 households get 24 hour electricity from a 3 kilowatt micro-hydro plant on the Suketal rivulet. Sushila says she used to spend Rs 200 a month for the kerosene for lighting, but now has to pay only Rs 50 a month for the electricity.
The entire project costs less than Rs 1 million and was built with local donations and voluntary labour from villagers. The same model was used in dozens of villages in Palpa with seed support from the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) in Kathmandu.
There are nearly 2,000 micro-hydro plants below 500 kilowatts all over Nepal and they generate nearly 13 megawatts of total power. If Palpa is any indication, the way out of the power shortage in rural Nepal may be to decentralisation energy generation from Himalayan streams and rivulets.
At Kachal Okhaldhunga in Palpa, villagers donated Rs 5,000 each to build a peltric-turbine power plant and a 1km transmission line that costs Rs 1.3 million and provides electricity to 84 homes. "We never imagined we'd ever see an electric light in our villages," says Om Bahadur Gharti, "now we know anything is possible if we get together for a common goal."
Debi Arkhal, a local farmer, says: "My children can now study till late and don't have to squint while doing their homework in the flickering kerosene lamp."
Palpa residents have lived in darkness for centuries, and even after the transmission lines from Kali Gandaki were strung up over their villages eight years ago, they never got any power. "It's a dream come true," says project in-charge of the Dobhan micro-hydro, Kesar Singh.
AEPC's technician, Narayan Subedi is equally excited. "Palpa is an inspiration for other parts of Nepal, this model of local self-help can easily be replicated elsewhere in Nepal." In the past year, Palpa villagers have set up five micro-hydro plants with local initiative generating a total of 36 kilowatts of power and benefiting nearly 700 households.
Today, when the villagers hear the news over the radio that power cuts in Kathmandu have increased to six hours a day, they feel like thumbing their noses at the capital.