Real or gimmicky?Plan to end load-shedding in Kathmandu risks becoming just another tall promise
Nepal Electricity Authority’s (NEA) new Managing Director Kul Man Ghising is being hailed as the new hero who, according to some media reports, single-handedly managed to ensure there was no blackout in Kathmandu during Tihar. This, the reports claim, is a great feat—given that there were several hours of power cuts during Tihar last year. Ghising is being further praised for putting together an ambitious plan to free the Valley and three towns of Kavre from rolling power cuts this winter.
While we welcome Ghising’s proactive approach, there are some holes in the narrative. First, a blackout-free Tihar in the Valley is not entirely true. There were parts of Lalitpur that saw up to two hours of power cuts. NEA, however, has sought to attribute them to technical malfunctions rather than to a power shortage.
Second, a total supply of around 180 MW of power has been added to the national grid in the last one year—both as a result of increased import from India and domestic projects coming on line. Third, there is renewed discussion on running diesel power plants to provide additional supply, although NEA has said such plants will be used only in the worst-case scenario.
Fourth, the plan may require the only reservoir-type hydro power plant of Kulekhani to be run in full capacity. The downside to that is that water once
discharged will not be replenished at the same level and when the dry season arrives, the depleted water level may force a shutdown of the plant or cause it to operate in a significantly reduced capacity. To be fair on Ghising, he has said that
he only plans to run the Kulekhani plant for several additional minutes.
The solution to this, we suspect, will be offered in the form of diesel powered plants and more power imports from India. How can a country with so much hydro potential justify operating diesel powered plants?
There is some suspicion that the feel-good plan to end load-shedding in Kathmandu is being dangled to procure and run diesel generators in order to pocket hefty commissions.
Another problematic part of the story is the proposal to stop providing uninterrupted power to industries and businesses. While giving special privileges to them may appear unfair, the fact of the matter is that
they create employment. Nepal’s power woes continue to hit our industries hard. To improve business environment and promote employment creation, the government needs to ensure that the cost of doing business is low. Firing diesel and petrol-fuelled generators to bridge the power deficit
is not an idea that instils confidence in the business community.
Ending blackouts is a welcome goal, but this is not the first time politicians and officials have made such a promise. Until a credible plan is presented, it is only natural for us to be sceptical about tall promises.