Trans-Himalayan power line project remains on the drawing board

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The plan envisages building an electric transmission line linking Rasuwagadhi and Kerung.

A year after the formation of a Nepal-China joint technical team to fix the terms for the development of a 400 kV trans-Himalayan power line linking Rasuwagadhi and Kerung across the northern border, the project hasn’t got off the drawing board.

The team was created during Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s China visit in 2018 as per an understanding between State Grid Corporation of China and the Nepal Electricity Authority to prepare a detailed project report and settle the commercial terms.

Officials are nowhere near starting the necessary studies for the planned cross-border transmission line project, which is a required infrastructure for developing the much-hyped trans-Himalayan railway.

“The project is still in a nascent stage with no concrete developments on the preparation of a detailed project report and construction and funding modalities,” said Bajra Bhusan Chaudhary, deputy managing director of the Nepal Electricity Authority which is coordinating the Nepali side.

“A feasibility study is in the final stages, and we have applied at the Ministry of Forests and Environment to carry out an environmental impact assessment along the proposed alignment of the power line.”

The Nepali portion of the power line will stretch from Galchhi in Dhading district to Rasuwagadhi on the border with China in the north, according to the Nepal Electricity Authority.

On Friday, the joint technical team held a meeting in Kathmandu with the discussions limited to Nepali and Chinese power generation projections and requirements over the years.

As only 80 km of the transmission line lies within Nepali territory, the power utility had asked the Chinese side to take the lead in developing the project in earlier meetings. The sticking point in the meetings has been the commercial viability of the infrastructure and lack of market.

“The Chinese side has pointed to the viability of the project in past meetings, and refused to be the sole investor,” said an anonymous official. “Without preparing a proper detailed project report, the Nepali side has not been able to estimate the investment required to build a transmission line over such challenging geographical terrain.”

A preliminary study report prepared by the state-owned power utility concluded that around 23 km of the power line must pass through protected areas of Langtang National Park to make the project economically feasible.

In line with the judgment, the power utility applied to carry out the environmental impact assessment along the proposed alignment. The ministry is evaluating the application. “It will take around one and a half years to conclude the environmental study,” said Chaudhary.

If the Forest and Environment Ministry does not okay the proposed alignment, the cost of the priority project is expected to swell massively due to payment for easement rights over privately owned lands outside the national park and difficult terrain.

The trans-Himalayan transmission line project has been highlighted by the government in its Transmission System Master Plan for the period 2015-35.

Under the plan, two interconnection points have been proposed in Zone 4 classified on the basis of power generation and prospects of power trade between India and China.

“Zone 4 includes the Trishuli-Chilime, Khimti and Tamakoshi corridors, and consists of major plants such as Sunkoshi 2 (1110 megawatts), Tamakoshi 3 (650 megawatts), Sunkoshi 3 (536 megawatts) and others,” states the master plan. “This zone is proposed to have interconnection points at New Dhalkebar for power exchange with Muzaffarpur in India and the Chilime 400 kV substation for power exchange with Kerung in China.”

In line with the priority accorded by the government to the cross-border project, the Department of Electricity Development had issued a survey licence to the state-owned power utility in June to survey the 400 kV Ratamate-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung transmission line with a capacity to transmit 5000 megawatts.

Source : The Kathmandu Post