Plugging in polluting power


    MAY 09 –
    bbc_riverThat Nepal’s perennial power crisis demands at least one large storage hydropower plant is a no-brainer.Stored water from such a project can make up for the supply gap mushrooming run-of-river type plants create during the dry season when water levels drop drastically.
    A number of promising storage sites have been identified, including Budi Gandaki and Upper Seti. But these are the pipelined projects we have been hearing about for ages now and they are still only on paper.
    There are several theories on why none of them has come into being all these years.
    Here is the latest one: storage projects would store water during monsoon to be used for dry-season power generation entailing high-value regulated flow for India. The water that becomes available during the dry season would indeed be precious. Many Nepali water experts have argued that Nepal needs to be compensated for creating such downstream benefits for India.
    But the question is: who will raise the issue with New Delhi in the current political climate? And if the political parties, already alleged to be heavily influenced by foreign powers, choose to go ahead with storage type projects without sorting out the downstream issue with India, they run the risk of being seen as serving the interest of the southern neighbour.
    Top sources at the energy ministry say it is a “catch-22 situation” that has hijacked the prospects of developing a storage project. “It is a very difficult situation we are dealing with and we don’t see this going anywhere,” top officials at the ministry said. Otherwise, they say, the 600MW Budi Gandaki project would have long kicked off.
    With a sound flow of the Budi Gandaki river even during dry season, the project has been promoted as one of the most feasible, mainly because of its location—right at the centre of the country which means it will have easy access to the already existing national grid. French consultants this scribe met recently near the proposed dam site in Dhading district said that the geology was right for the dam—one that has solid rock on both the sides and the location is a narrow gorge with a wider opening upstream, ideal for a storage project.
    There certainly is the issue of displacement of local communities but officials say that can be managed. Chief secretary Lilamani Poudel, who recently resigned as chairman of the Nepal Electricity Authority board, agrees that it is a tricky issue, “We will certainly have to deal with the issue of downstream benefit but that needs to be done without disturbing the storage type project that we need now.”
    The Nepal Investment Board’s Chief Executive Officer Radhesh Pant believes that the difficulty can be dealt with but there has to be a unified stance, “And that applies not just to projects involving our neighbouring countries but all major schemes.”
    The balancing act suggested by Poudel and Pant’s “united we must stand” mantra, however, is not something political parties are interested in right now. It could be the reason why the idea of getting the private sector to develop storage type hydropower projects was recently floated—though there seem to be no takers so far. Or it could also be that “political actors” in Nepal are quite mindful of how crucial the Kosi high dam is for India and therefore, it makes no sense to talk of any other project at present.
    Whatever the reason, the result is that there has been no hydropower development in the country despite crippling power cuts. And people, especially industries and businesses, are finding their way around: diesel generators.
    Although no official study has been done yet, the rate at which diesel-run generators are being installed is simply staggering. Unofficial estimations put the figure of electricity produced by such generators at around 700MW. It is the roughly the present installed capacity of the country’s total power plants and is nearly three times to what is generated during the dry season. Figures obtained from the Department of Customs indicate a significant rise in imports of both generators and diesel.
    More diesel generators mean more carbon emissions—a worrying development for a country that has always boasted about its negligible share in global greenhouse gas release. Of course, the figures will still remain minimal compared to big emitters, even when emissions from all generators installed in recent years are counted in. But given the huge potential of renewable energy like hydropower that Nepal has at its disposal, deviating from the low carbon path will certainly be a shame.
    The country has maintained its stance that carbon emissions will have to be decreased drastically so that global temperature rise remains below 1.5 degrees from the pre-industrial period. Only last week, the atmospheric accumulation of carbon is said to have reached 400 parts per million while scientists say the safe level is below 350.
    While it is true that emission reduction is demanded of both developed and fast developing economies, the two sides have been at loggerheads on who should be cutting carbon by how much. Least developed countries in international climate negotiations aspire to be dealmakers—a goal Nepal, as the new chair of the LDC bloc, has announced.
    Against that background, the swarming diesel generators in the country—while hydropower development remains hijacked—does not bode well for the leadership.
    Charity, after all, begins at home.

    Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London


    Source : The Kathmandu Post