Nepali Times
Power struggle


LIMELIGHT: Kathmandu is spotlit by the sun as rainless monsoon clouds gather over the Valley on Tuesday afternoon. The monsoon failure threatens a food and energy crisis.
It's simple: last winter, there were 18 hours of power cuts a day. By this winter, demand will have risen by 11 per cent, but generation capacity hasn't been able to keep up.

The political uncertainty in Kathmandu has stalled new projects, and the lawlessness in the countryside has forced the abandonment or slowdown in schemes already underway. In addition, the failure of the monsoon means the Kulekhani reservoir is not getting charged.

Forget the dream of exporting our power to India and balancing our trade deficit, what are we going to do for domestic energy? Experts say winter power cuts are here to stay for at least another six years when, and if, the next slew of power schemes come online.

The generation shortfall this winter will be 40 per cent below demand. Nepal's total installed capacity is 687MW when all plants are running at full force, which happens only in the monsoon because there is only one dam. Precipitation this monsoon has been 30 per cent of normal, which is the other reason why for the first time there are power cuts even during the monsoon.

The only good news is that since last year, 80MW has been added to the grid: 70 from Middle Marsyangdi and 10 from small producers. Also last year, Kulekhani, Kali Gandaki and Bhote Kosi were out of action at various times because of maintenance or breakdowns and the transmission lines importing power from India were washed away by the Kosi. So, if it is any consolation: this winter the power cuts won't be worse than last winter.

But it will be bad enough and it is every household for itself. Everyone needs to start planning now to find the optimum alternate power source for lights, computers, tvs and water pumps at home. Inverters will be useless because there won't be enough power to keep the batteries charged. Diesel generators are expensive, polluting and make noise. Solar cells can store limited power, but are workable.

At the national level, the government is going for expensive multi-fuel plants. A cheaper option may be to negotiate power purchases from India and fast-track the construction of additional transmission lines.

LYING LOW: The flow on the Kali Gandaki on the border between Baglung and Parbat in this picture taken in early July is below normal because of the failed monsoon.
The question is what are we going to do as individual families and as a nation to prepare for power cuts this winter and the next six years?

Sher Singh Bhat of NEA's Load Dispatching Centre gives a cautious reply when asked how bad it will be. "It would be premature to predict the hours of load-shedding in winter," he says.

But Gyanendra Lal Pradhan of Butwal Power Company can't resist venting about his frustration at the government's lack of action despite last winter's emergency. He says: "At this rate of power generation, the power shortage will continue for another 60 years."

Even if the constructions of major power projects like Upper Tama Kosi and Upper Seti start this year (and that seems highly unlikely) it will be another six years before generation meets demand growth. The next two projects Chameliya (31 MW) and Kulekhani 3 (14 MW) will only be completed in 2013.

Last July, the Maoist-led government announced in its policy and program to develop 10,000 MW in the next 10 years to meet domestic demand and to export to India. Prime Minister Dahal went to Delhi and said Nepal was committed to that goal. But it was during his tenure that even the three projects on the Arun, Budi Gandaki and Upper Karnali where Indian companies were involved ground to a halt because of local unrest.

Private producers like Khimti and Bhote Kosi have surplus power that they can sell to NEA, but the deals are mired in legal complications. Instead, experts say, NEA is draining the Kulekhani to generate power in the monsoon when the water should be stored for peak winter hours.

Winter 2008 Winter 2009 Winter 2010 Winter 2011
Demand: 878MW Demand: 966 Demand: 1062 Demand: 1210
Supply: 667MW Supply: 747 Supply: 760 Supply: 810

This year, the UML-led government was even more ambitious and announced that it would generate 25,000 MW in 20 years. The government has put Upper Seti dam (130MW) and Upper Tamakosi (456MW) in the priority list this year.

The Asian Development Bank has pledged Rs 5.04 billion for the hydropower sector. The money will be mostly spent for developing transmission lines and substations and some amount will be spent for the maintenance of hydro projects and the CFL program. The ADB has also granted the government assistance of Rs 385 million for Upper Seti project.

Experts say that winter power cuts could be reduced to 16 hours per week if the NEA immediately cracks down on leakage and steps up its CFL campaign. The government admits that last year, a quarter of the electricity generated was stolen. The real figure is probably closer to 40 percent. Other supply side interventions like time of day and seasonal tariff would also help to reduce peak power demand.

The only other option, and for the moment most feasible, is to import power from India this winter. But there is a transmission bottleneck, with only 132 kVA crossborder transmission lines in eastern and western Nepal. The planned 220 kVA Muzaffurpur-Dhalkebar and Gorakhpur-Butwal lines are stalled with Nepal and India blaming each other for the delay. And even within Nepal, powerlines are not evenly distributed.

And then there is the longer term strategy to export power to India to narrow Nepal's trade deficit and to switch to renewable energy to reduce our dependence on imported petroleum. But given the failure of successive governments to meet even domestic demand, that seems like a distant dream now. For now, though, the priority should be to build the transmission lines, agree on a tariff and set up the infrastructure to import up to 250MW of power from India to tide over the deficit years.

Even so, private producers like Pradhan say domestic power production will never take off if Nepal keeps depending on India to bail it out. "There should be policies in place to encourage investment in hydropower," he says.
Dedicated export projects like West Seti (750MW), Pancheswor (6,400MW), Kosi (3,500MW) and Arun III (700MW) haven't even started construction. In a visit to Nepal last month, Indian Water Resource Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the Kosi High Dam would be built, but Nepali officials seem to be unaware of it.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)