Frequent power cuts become common across the country

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Abrupt power cuts have been common occurrence across the country of late. this has left many to suspects if Nepal Electricity Authority has imposed an’ undeclared load shedding.’ but the NEA officials dismiss the load shedding rumours, calming that the country has surplus power during the wet season. they attribute the frequent power outages to the lack of high-capacity transmission line.

Residents of Balkot area in Suryabinayak Municipality-3, Bhaktapur, were hit by a power outage that lasted for several hours on Tuesday morning. The morning routine of office workers and students were affected as a result. Many families did not have access to water because they could not use the water pump.

When the residents tried to call ‘No Light’ service of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the line, as always, was unresponsive.

“We could have prepared accordingly, had we been notified about the power outage,” said Roshan Dahal, a local resident. “We tried calling the ‘No Light’ number, but no one answered.”

But NEA Spokesperson Suresh Bahadur Bhattarai claimed that the ‘No Light’ was a 24/7 service.

“We have a human resource crunch which might have led to unresponsiveness,” he claimed.

Abrupt and frequent power cuts have become common across the country in the recent months. The NEA officials say this is primarily due to maintenance works that are currently underway in different parts of the country.

While the power utility has issued a ‘Maintenance Shutdown Schedule’ on its website, it does not match the time of electricity outage. Moreover, the schedule only concerns Kathmandu Valley; it does not tell when the maintenance works are being carried out in other parts of the country.

It took five hours or so for the power to restore in Balkot. The local residents did not find out why there was an outage in the first place.

Earlier, load shedding was primarily limited to industrial areas, but from the past few months, even households are facing frequent power cuts.

According to a research report published in May 2022 by the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI), 64 percent of Nepal’s industries are forced to install diesel generators due to frequent power outages. The use of generators, as per the paper, results in an average increase of 5.3 percent in the industries’ monthly operation costs.

Between 2008 and 2016, the whole country suffered from unreliable power supply, sometimes up to 16 hours a day. According to the study entitled ‘Economic costs of electricity load shedding in Nepal,’ the country lost an estimated $11bn value of its GDP in that period.

During the load shedding period in Nepal, the NEA used to publish weekly power outage schedules and update it regularly.

Load shedding or not?

The recent power cuts have led many people to suspect that the NEA has imposed ‘undeclared load shedding.’

“When there was officially announced load shedding in Nepal, the NEA used to provide the weekly schedule of power outages,” a netizen posted on Facebook. “But now, the NEA neither admits to load shedding, nor provides regular electricity, compelling people to think if the days of load shedding are back.”

The NEA officials claimed that there is no load shedding, since the country has been generating surplus electricity during the rainy season.

As of now, the total installed capacity of hydropower plants operational in the country is 2,759 MW. However, the national peak demand is only 1,806 MW. Yet, there are regular power outages.

Delay in the construction of transmission line

The NEA officials attribute the intermittent power cuts to the delay in constructing transmission lines. The construction of Hetauda-Dhalkebar-Inaruwa 400 kV and Hetauda-Bharatpur-Bardaghat 220 kV transmission lines has been ongoing for more than a decade, significantly surpassing the initially planned completion time of three years.

The delay in the construction of these transmission lines has also hit the country’s hydropower sector.

Representatives of Madhya Bhotekosi Jalavidyut Company Ltd have said that the project would miss the generation deadline by at least one month.

“We have already encountered several delays owing to local obstructions and natural disasters,” said Ram Gopal Shiwakoti, the company’s CEO.

Initially, the project had planned to complete the project by the end of 2022, which was pushed to mid-June.

“Our revised electricity generation schedule is September. Due to the delays, the project cost has escalated by Rs 2.75bn,” added Shiwakoti.

While the project’s work is almost complete, the actual generation cannot commence until the transmission lines are completed.

Due to the delay in constructing high-capacity transmission lines, the NEA official said, the authority is currently transmitting only around 80 MW of electricity using its old transmission system. The new lines would have supported the transmission of up to 300 MW.

The construction of a 400 kV transmission line is essential for transmitting electricity to western Nepal from the Dhalkebar substation. The existing 132 kV transmission line in Hetauda is unable to carry sufficient electricity to supply the western region. As a result, the NEA is unable to meet the demand and purchase electricity from independent power producers.

Poor infrastructure

Mukesh Kafle, former Managing Director of the NEA, said that the delay in the construction of new transmission and distribution lines is not the only reason behind power outages.

“The Nepal Electricity Authority needs to replace its overall system. The time has come to invest in replacing all the channels including substations and feeders,” he said.

Without the system overhaul, Kafle warned, their situation will get worse in the future.

Meanwhile, the NEA has instructed the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to reduce their energy generation, claiming that around 170 MW of electricity from 20 hydroelectricity projects is going to waste.

Ganesh Karki, president of Independent Power Producers’ Association Nepal (IPPAN), said that the only solution for regular electricity flow is installation of modern distribution and transmission lines.

“The government should not leave all the work of infrastructure development to the electricity authority. It should also intervene when necessary to control the problem of power spillage,” he said.

Karki added Nepal has finally become power surplus at least in the wet months, so the time has come for the government and investors to focus on infrastructure development.

“Earlier, everyone was focused on power generation because we were way behind our producing capacity. And since infrastructure development was never our priority, we do not have a reliable distribution channel to supply electricity.”