This year’s budget makes it evident that transmission line construction is among government priorities, but sadly not to the desired level.
The imbalance between generation and transmission expansion plans and more specifically, undermining the importance of power transmission systems, are beginning to have their effect.
We cannot wait to celebrate the commercial operation date (COD) of a hydropower project while its connection to a new transmission line and substation still remain uncertain. Transmission lines are required to transmit power to substations which feed respective load centers. There is no alternative to transmission lines, no wireless technology as in the case of telephone.
Transmission line is a burning issue in the power sector for two reasons: power evacuation and system stability. On the one hand, new power plants can’t connect to the national grid, while on the other, existing transmission lines are overloaded, leading to system losses, voltage drops, and endangered power system stability. These constraints often lead to grid failure.
Contingency analysis of Integrated Nepal Power System (INPS), the national grid of Nepal, has revealed that it has already reached a critical state. The highest voltage level adopted so far, 132 KV, has become insufficient. Without the addition of new lines, this grid will have to carry over 2,000 MW of additional power after six years.
Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has dished up ambitious plans to construct about 2,400 km of transmission lines. Nepal needs both 220 KV and 400 KV transmission lines. A 400 KV Dhalkebar-Mujaffarpur cross-border transmission line is expected within a few years to facilitate power trading between Nepal and India. However, completing the path may not be easy due to land acquisition problems and budgetary uncertainties.
When a transmission line or power plant suddenly develops a glitch, most existing INPS transmission lines get overloaded. Mismatch between supply and load result in long hours of daily load-shedding. Besides, problems in existing transmission lines have aggravated the situation.
NEA is constructing transmission lines under two departments: one for voltage levels up to 132 KV and the other for 220 KV and above, in addition to a separate project for the construction of cross-border transmission lines. However, progress is slow, which has frustrated stakeholders.
PPA & compensation
Khare (24.1 MW), Singati (16 MW), Maya Khola (14.9 MW) Mewa (50 MW), Solu (23.5 MW) and Lower Solu (82 MW) are ‘super six’ hydropower projects, producing 210.5 MW hydropower altogether.
Their name should probably be changed to ‘suffer six’, since they have been suffering from state-inflicted problems such as delay in signing power purchase agreements (PPA). The delay again is attributable to lack of transmission lines and proper markets for monsoon energy. The battle is not limited to the ‘super six’, as transmission lines need to reach all generation corridors in different parts of the country.
Besides the ‘super six’, there are many other under-construction hydropower projects that need new transmission lines for power evacuation. So far, generation licenses for about 2,000 MW have already been issued by the Department of Electricity Development (DoED) for various hydropower projects. It means that NEA will have to deal with more pressures for PPAs in the days ahead. However, PPAs without well-built plans and strategies will lead to NEA’s bankruptcy.
NEA has already concluded PPA on 114 projects with a combined capacity of 1,600 MW. About 25 percent of them are under construction, whereas some others are still awaiting PPA. Any attempt to put a compensation provision in PPA for failing to construct transmission infrastructures by a project’s commercial date of operation is wrong.
This provision is not a sustainable solution, but lose-lose proposition. It would crush an implementing agency’s urge to construct transmission lines on time. The resulting loss would include economic and financial repercussions for both private sector companies and NEA.
Instead, the government needs to work out fast-track measures to construct transmission lines and avoid cumbersome administrative processes. These include the protest-prone compensation practices applied to the right-of-way in route alignment of proposed transmission lines.
Further, no entrepreneur wants to endanger his future by risking huge investment for such tiny compensations. NEA and independent power producers have no mutual trust, but are compelled to work together. The present Acts, regulations and practices cannot produce the desired results.
A case-wise treatment without a standard PPA template will only heap blame on NEA. Any PPA carried out in haste—without appraising far-reaching implications of foreign exchange and market risks—cannot benefit NEA.
The state should come up with short-term and long-term plans for massive growth of transmission capacity in the country, which can be accomplished either by adding new transmission lines or upgrading existing ones.
Substation capacities should be added or augmented accordingly. Robust plans are necessary to expedite transmission line construction, based on our generation potential.
NEA’s effort to prepare an updated transmission system master plan is praiseworthy. If it is completed within a couple years, as anticipated, it will be advantageous not only to government, NEA and IPP’s, but also to the entire power sector.
The author is a senior Engineer
Source : Republica