Nepal is among the leading countries in the world in terms of hydropower potential, and generation of hydroelectricity had started in Nepal over a century ago. Hydroelectricity was not generated in the South Asia when the then prime minister Chandra Shumsher established a power house in Pharping even though it was for his personal use. The Pharping Hydropower Project is still considered to be the best in terms of engineering. The electricity generated then was used only in the palaces of Ranas and the roads around those palaces. Electricity truly reached the homes of commoners only after the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) was established in 1985 for generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. But there was not much progress in hydropower generation during the Panchayat regime apart from development of a few projects. Another era of electricity generation started in Nepal only after the Electricity Act 1992 started to issue license in a way to involve private sector in generation. But Nepal has not been able to take the huge leap that it was expected to take in these 21 years. Nepal’s hydropower potential was called white gold and the textbooks have been teaching that Nepal is the second richest country in terms of water resources. But unfortunately, far from selling hydroelectricity we are not even able to fulfill our own demands and are in fact importing from India to limit load-shedding to 12 hours a day. We have added just 700 MW to the national grid in these 30 years including that generated by the private sector. The total installed capacity of the 38 projects across the country is 750 MW but all of them, apart from Kulekhani, are run of the river (ROR) projects and cannot be operated at full capacity during the winter season when the water level in rivers is low. Energy demand, on the other hand, is rising annually by 10 percent and has reportedly reached 1100 MW during the dry season.
It is not that the current situation has arrived out of nowhere. NEA knew about this eventuality almost two decades ago. But NEA, that had monopoly over generation to distribution of electricity, did not pay attention toward new projects. The government issued license only for ROR projects even after private sector was allowed into the sector. The hydropower sector was politicized when big foreign and institutional investors expressed interest to invest in hydropower projects in Nepal. The trend that started with Arun III continues now with Upper Karnali. The political parties in Nepal must seriously think what they gained by politics over water. The parties take refuge in nationalism while obstructing projects developed especially for export toward India. Where can we sell our surplus electricity if not to India? Bhutan has already topped other South Asian countries in terms of per capital income by exporting electricity and we are indulging in politicking while letting the water flow away without providing any return. One can sympathize with the argument that projects for domestic consumption must be constructed first before export-oriented ones and the electricity tariff for Nepalis, currently the highest in the region, must be reduced but no kind of obstruction against export of electricity should be tolerated.
The government and NEA, responsible for management of electricity in the country, must formulate appropriate strategy to utilize our hydropower potential properly. The greatest weakness of NEA is its inability to make a strategy for management of around 800 MW of electricity that will be wasted during the night after four years. It is irresponsible of NEA to not improve its managerial capacity and to tell the promoters that it cannot buy electricity during the five month of wet season. The government must, therefore, take initiative to sign power trade agreement (PTA) with India to address that.
Source : Karobar Daily