There will be lightNepalis had lost hope that their country, often and loudly flaunted as having one of the world’s richest hydro resources, would one day be able to liberate itself from the shackles of hours-long power outages.
Nepalis had lost hope that their country, often and loudly flaunted as having one of the world’s richest hydro resources, would one day be able to liberate itself from the shackles of hours-long power outages. They had become so habituated to power cuts, sometimes as long as 15 hours a day, that they had conceded that using rice cookers and washing machines, watching television, and ironing clothes were luxuries.
Then Kulman Ghising entered the scene as the new managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the state-owned power utility. Immediately after his appointment in mid-September, Ghising started his crusade against load-shedding.
The general public, however, were unaware of Ghising’s ambitious plan until October 30, the day when Nepalis celebrated Laxmi Puja, the Festival of Lights. On that day, electricity consumption had reached its annual peak of over 315 MW in the Kathmandu Valley. Yet the Capital did not witness any power outages.
That was the Ghising effect.
Many people have steered NEA in the last one decade, when power cuts became chronic. But no one had been able to manage electricity load as efficiently as Kulman Ghising.
“My specialisation in integrated resource planning with demand-side management while pursuing Master’s degree in engineering helped me in this initiative,” says Ghising.
Buoyed by the achievement of providing uninterrupted power supply in the Valley during the festival, Ghising even claimed that the Capital would never face load shedding again.
Many made fun of Ghising at that time for making, what they labelled, a populist statement. But the Valley has not faced power cuts—save the aberrations—since he made the declaration, while outages have been limited to just few hours per day in other parts of the country. This has made Ghising a national hero and a poster boy for virtuous civil service—although some claim he is tapping the Kulekhani reservoir project—which is generally used to generate electricity during winter when water level in rivers dip—to light homes in the Valley, and that the Capital as a result would face longer hours of loadshedding this winter.
Ghising acknowledges running the Kulekhani plant for several minutes per day to ease loadshedding in the Valley, but he claims it won’t affect power supply during the winter.
“My aim is to eliminate loadshedding, but I am also careful about not putting our future at stake,” he says.
There are those who wonder how Ghising was able to achieve something that no other chief of NEA has been able to achieve in the past.
The answer is pretty simple: NEA has now stopped supplying electricity to industries through dedicated feeders during peak electricity consumption hours from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. This electricity is now being supplied to households.
Nonetheless, with the dry season approaching soon, Ghising says, it would be quite a challenge to eliminate power cuts during peak hours. “But having said that, I will not give up trying,” he adds. “Also, India has agreed to supply additional power to Nepal which is good news for us.”
Only time will tell if he will be successful in his endeavour. But whatever the outcome, his sincere attempts in resigning load-shedding to history will be remembered by Nepalis for years to come.
This feat was something unexpected for someone born in a lower-middle income family in a remote village of Ramechhap district. “Instead of thinking about how to become successful, I like to remain focussed on my duty,” says Ghising. “And that was exactly what I did when I was a student. All I did was study because I wanted to become an engineer. And I knew I must work hard to get a scholarship to pursue my dreams.”
Immediately after completing his intermediate (Plus Two) level studies in science from Amrit Science College in the late 1980s, Ghising applied for a scholarship, which he won, and started pursuing his Bachelor’s in electrical engineering at the Regional Institute of Technology in Jamshedpur, India.
After completing his studies, Ghising joined NEA as a seventh grade engineer at the Rural Electrification and Small Hydropower Department, where he worked for a decade as a site engineer and later as a project chief for different rural electrification projects implemented through grants provided by the Japanese government.
He then joined the western division office of the NEA in Butwal as the division chief, where he was responsible for planning, controlling and managing electrification and reinforcement works in 10 western and mid-western districts of the country.
After achieving fair amount of success at the division office, Ghising got the opportunity to work at the power trading department of the NEA as a manager. During his tenure at the power trading department, he was responsible for holding power purchase agreement (PPA) negotiations, monitoring progress, testing and commissioning of hydroelectric plants, and dealing with independent power producers on technical and contractual matters.
Ghising got his first taste of success at Rasuwa-based Chilime Hydropower Company, established with majority of shareholding by NEA. He was initially deputed there as a board director and was later given the responsibility of managing director. Ghising is credited with expanding Chilime into country’s leading power development company.
Not very long after he assumed the office, Ghising settled the long standing dispute between Rasuwa locals and the company regarding the share distribution by convincing the locals to withdraw the two cases filed against the company at the Supreme Court. He played an instrumental role in bringing the company into full-fledged operation by issuing remaining 24 percent of shares to the public. Even the impoverished people from the district were able to own the company’s shares after Ghising convinced the banks to finance up to 80 percent of the face value of the share.
“The public offering of the shares created the feeling of ownership among locals, and the company’s relationship with them, which had been topsy-turvy in the past, became harmonious,” says Ghising. “There were numerous instances when obstruction by locals had disturbed the company’s operations in the past. Therefore, improved relationship was crucial for the company’s success.”
The initiative he took to take the locals along in the development process had put him on the threshold of fame. During his tenure at Chilime, the 22.1MW plant operated at the highest efficiency and barely remained docile, as the company kept good inventory of spare parts and conducted maintenance regularly.
While at Chilime, he also established three subsidiary companies—Rasuwagadhi Hydropower Company Limited, Madhya Bhotekoshi Jalavidhyut Company Limited and Sanjen Jalavidhyut Company Limited—to develop four hydropower projects with a combined capacity of around 270 MW, including 111MW Rasuwagadi, 103MW Bhotekohsi III, 42MW Sanjen and 14MW Upper Sanjen.
His work made him so popular, Rasuwa locals protested when the then Energy Minister Umakanta Jha decided to call him back to the NEA head office. These demonstrations even forced the minister to revoke his decision. Similar incident took place recently when three NEA board members were sacked after they tried to the obstruct reform initiative taken by Ghising.
Ghising believes one should perform whatever duty honestly. “Rest of the things will automatically fall in its place,” he says.
A problem as intertwined and complicated as meeting Nepal’s increasing hunger for power might be a while before it truly falls into place, but with Ghising’s unrelenting crusade, the process has at least begun. And with the constantly updated loadshedding timetables slowly coming down from walls on kitchens and stores, Kathmandu’s residents don’t need to plan their days around when electricity is available or not. And just for that, however momentary it may be, Kulman Ghising deserves the plaudits being showered his way.