Enough power, not enough power linesAlthough Nepal’s energy sector looks promising in 2019 on the generation front, the NEA is still struggling to complete key transmission lines required to transport electricity from the power plants to the national grid.
Nepal marked 2018 with the completion of the Chameliya Hydropower Project, one of the most delayed infrastructure projects in the country. The execution of the 30 MW project in the far western region a decade after its construction began came as welcome news for Nepalis. Moreover, it was huge relief for the national energy sector, which continues to rely heavily on electricity imported from India to keep itself free from the massive power cuts prevailing up until a few years ago.
Following the completion of the Chameliya project, the government quickly announced that other energy projects would be expedited, putting the country on track to become self-reliant in energy. The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the state-owned power utility, was counting on two hydropower projects—456 MW Upper Tamakoshi and 14 MW Kulekhani-3—to end the country’s reliance on power imports. However, the power utility’s plans to begin operating the two plants by the end of this year didn’t materialise due to dilly-dallying on the part of the part of the contractor, despite the completion of most of the construction work.
More than 95 percent of the construction work on Upper Tamakoshi has been completed, but Texamo, the Indian contractor responsible for the hydro-mechanical work, has yet to undertake the crucial job of installing the penstock pipes. Likewise, due to the poor performance of Jheijian Jialin, a Chinese company responsible for the electro-mechanical works at Kulekhani-3, the project, launched in 2008, has yet to generate electricity 10 years later. “It is disappointing that we were unable to complete these two projects by 2018 despite finishing most of the construction work,” said Nepal Electricity Authority spokesperson Prabal Adhikari.
Although eight privately owned hydropower projects, apart from Chameliya, with a combined installed capacity of 53.8 MW came into operation in 2018, the increased power generation was still not enough to meet the national demand for electricity.
As a result, Nepal continues to rely on electricity imported from the southern neighbour to guarantee regular power and ensure that the country does not slip back into darkness. Currently, the Nepal Electricity Authority is importing around 500 MW from India through more than a dozen cross-border transmission lines to meet energy demand during peak hours, as the power generated by domestic hydropower projects is far below their installed capacity due to shrinking water levels in their feed rivers.
As a majority of hydropower plants in the country are run-of-the-river, their output fluctuates with the water level in the rivers where they are located. As such, power generation drops sharply during the dry season when there is less discharge. Domestic hydropower projects produce around 650 MW of electricity, well below their combined installed capacity of 1,027 MW. According to Adhikari, power imports from India might increase further in the coming weeks as output drops in the domestic hydropower plants.
Kulman Ghising, managing director of the Nepal Electricity Authority, said power imports from India were a temporary measure and would end as soon as a few hydropower projects that are on the verge of completion come online. “Upper Tamakoshi and Kulekhani-3 missed the completion deadline on multiple occasions due to contractual issues, but we are on track to finish these projects by this fiscal year,” said Ghising. “It will be Nepal’s first step towards being self-reliant in electricity.”
Although the country’s energy sector looks promising in the coming year on the generation front, the Nepal Electricity Authority is still struggling to complete key transmission lines required to transport electricity from the power plants to the national grid. Strategic power line projects being developed by the utility, like in the Kabeli, Solu and Koshi corridors, have missed their completion deadlines due to a number of reasons, including political instability, negligence of the contractor, obstruction by landowners and delayed permission to clear trees.
Sailendra Guragain, president of the Independent Power Producers’ Association Nepal, warned that further delays in the completion of key power line projects could impact the morale of developers. “The Nepal Electricity Authority has failed to expedite the transmission line projects, and that will cost power developers billions,” said Guragain.
The Hewa Khola Hydropower Project, a privately-owned plant, is losing out on Rs200 million in revenue annually as it is unable to feed the electricity generated into the national grid due to lack of adequate transmission lines. The project was supposed to evacuate its electricity to the national grid over the Kabeli Corridor, but delays in the completion of this power line has forced the developer to bear a massive loss.
According to Khadga Bahadur Bisht, former president of the association, the government needs to come up with appropriate policies to address the bottlenecks faced by power line projects. “If the government fails to address the problems in time,” he said, “it will lead to a situation where power plants will generate enough electricity to meet the national demand, but it will be of no use as there won’t be enough power lines to evacuate it.”