Harsh reality outweighs tall claims

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    In his televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai said efforts would be made to limit power cuts to 10-12 hours a day.

    As finance minister in 2008, he had appeared on TV, presenting a fiscal budget that announced a 10-year plan to generate 10,000 MW electricity.

    Had his plan been implemented, Nepal would have generated 4,000 MW by now. Instead, no power has been added to the national grid in the last four years. His successor, Bharat Mohan Adhikari, had also announced a 20-year plan to generate 2,500 MW.

    Bombasts aside, the harsh reality is that the country will face 18 hours of loadshedding this winter.

    Peak power demand this year reached 1,026 MW, while power generation stands at only 578 MW, a shortfall of 448 MW. Even during the peak monsoon season, Kathmandu is facing seven hours of power cuts every day, and this is only the beginning.

    While the annual power demand is growing by 100 MW, none of the  power projects will be completed before 2014. Kulekhani III (14MW) was scheduled to be completed last December, but labour issues delayed the construction and a new completion date has been set for September 2014.

    Last year, the Jhala Nath Khanal government had declared an ‘energy emergency’ and announced a Rs 20 billion action plan to meet the energy shortfall within four years.

    Under the 10-point work plan, the government offered a 30 percent increase in the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) rate and Rs 10 million in soft loans for ongoing and new hydroprojects from domestic investors on condition that these power plants be completed by 2014.If these projects come into operation within the set dates, a total of 140 MW will be added to the national grid. However, there’s a catch: all of the current plans are run-off-river projects and power generation will dip by one-third due to receding water levels in the dry season. Of the total 700 MW installed capacity, the 92 MW Kulekhani is the only storage project in Nepal that generates power all year round. The NEA supplies power generated from this project during the winter.

    By the time the current projects are completed, the demand will have increased by 400 MW at the current rate of growth. The NEA has projected a peak demand of 1,600 MW in five years, up from the current 1,026 MW.

    “Even if all the projects in the pipeline are completed on time, Nepal will still face load-shedding for many years to come,” said water expert Ratna Sansar Shrestha. Given power generation from run-off-river projects, Nepal will have to generate 4,800 MW of electricity.

    While the Khanal government declared an energy emergency, it never focussed on the national economic policy on addressing the energy shortage. Since then, the government has failed to build cross-border transmission lines, improve the performance of hydro plants, repair thermal plants and check electricity pilfering, all of which are considered stopgap solutions. It could have reduced power leakages by two percent, but has completely failed to make headway.

    “It is a fact that there has been little progress on implementing the government plan to tide over the energy shortage, even during the energy emergency period,” admitted Joint Secretary at the Energy Ministry Anup Upadhyay. As measures to address the acute power shortage, the government had provided tax breaks and a hike in the PPA tariff to domestic power producers. However, no one rose to the challenge.

    Hydro entrepreneur  Gyanendra Lal Pradhan blamed the government for failing to attract domestic as well as foreign investors. “It is unfortunate that the government failed to implement its plans even after announcing an energy emergency,” he said, adding that developers will not be attracted until they are assured of security and returns.

    However, the signing of a revised memorandum of understanding between the Investment Board and CWE Investments, a subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC), on Monday to develop the 750MW West Seti project has rekindled hopes. The reservoir project is expected to give a much-needed relief to the power-strapped country, but citizens will have to wait eight long years before it becomes a reality.

    Source : DEWAN RAI / eKantipur