Manpower an overlooked factor in energy development

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    Plan to generate 10,000 MW in a decade

    Budhi Gandaki Hydropower Project Development Committee has not found a resettlement expert and only a handful of engineers are at work at the 1,200 MW project. Five of the engineers are fresh graduates and there are no plans to hire engineers in the near future.

    The detailed project report (DPR) for the project that is to generate more power than all the electricity generated to date requires the same number of engineers as Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and the Department of Electricity Development (DoED) have combined. The DPR says the project will have total manpower of 6,000 during the peak days of construction, and, of these 25 percent will be engineers of different streams.

    But with few resettlement experts, officials say that the work of land acquisition from 3,560 families has been affected. The committee had invited expressions of interest from resettlement experts but received no qualified bidders. The project has not received any attention from the Ministry of Energy (MoE). Committee Executive Director Gopal Basnet said that it is now preparing to hire resettlement experts on its own.

    The National Energy Crisis Reduction and Electricity Development Decade Plan (2016-2026) unveiled in February aims to generate a total of 10,000 MW by 2026, and Budhi Gandaki is counted in this total. The plan is to generate an additional 1445 MW in three years. But the plan document is silent about the important issue of manpower needed for the hydropower sector.

    Even MoE is not free of the shortage of manpower. “Retaining engineers for long has become a problem and we do not have experienced engineers working for us for more than five years,” Sanjay Sharma, joint secretary at the ministry, told Parliament’s Agriculture and Water Resource Committee on May 20. “Delay in filling vacant junior posts at the ministry has caused a shortage of manpower at senior levels,” Sharma told Republica.

    MoE has just 20 engineers including six hydropower engineers, two hydrological engineers, two geological engineers and six electrical engineers. Three years elapsed without any recruitment at DoED and this affected its study and project monitoring. Recently, 30 engineers at section officer level were recruited.

    DoED information officer Babu Raj Adhikari said, “Things have improved with the new recruitment but we still have little manpower to monitor the project work.” DoED conducts studies of possible projects, issues licenses and has also started to construct the 20 MW Budhi Ganga Hydropower Project. There is not a single mechanical engineer at MoE and DoED.

    “Manpower development has not been taken seriously as occasional requirements are met by hiring consultants,” admitted Sharma. General engineers do not meet the specific requirements of hydropower generation. Also lacking is coordination between institutions that implement hydropower projects and the engineering colleges.

    Sharma further said, “We should start bridging the manpower gap by turning to the engineering colleges for certain tasks as this can help prepare more experienced manpower.”

    NEA has a quota of 1,124 engineers of different levels and streams and 258 of these posts remain vacant. Adhikari said, “Engineers of any stream who find no jobs at home turn to greener pastures abroad.” They can land well-paid jobs abroad after a master’s degree, which they can earn while on the job, Adhikari added.

    The country needs to produce at least 500 graduates in civil engineering annually with specialization in hydropower if 10,000 MW is to be generated in 10 years, said Ramesh Kumar Maskey, professor of Civil Engineering (Hydropower and Hydraulics Engineering) at Kathamandu University. Annually, 60 engineers with hydropower specialization graduate from KU . “About 8,500 civil engineers are produced per year but a large number of these leave for better opportunities,” added Maskey.

    In addition to government agencies, the private sector also needs more manpower in hydropower. The projects the private sector was developing used to be limited to 30 MW, but now they have started to go for 100 MW projects, and over 125 projects of different sizes are under construction at present. The private sector has recruited most of the retired engineers from MoE and Nepal Electricity Authority. Five years ago, experienced hydropower engineers who retired from NEA and also serving NEA engineers did not have the option of working for the private sector. No retired engineers are idle now, but there is also a possible conflict of interest as they take appointments directly from the private companies.

    Source : Republica