Solu corridor transmission line project deadline extended for the fourth timePromoters of private hydropower projects warn that delays by the power utility in executing the power line project would cause more electricity spillage from hydel plants operating in the area and incur losses amounting to millions of rupees.
The state-owned power utility Nepal Electricity Authority has decided to give more time for the completion of the Solu corridor transmission line project in the wake of the ongoing restrictions to fight Covid-19.
However, the private power producers said that while the project contractor agreeing to complete the transmission line project by December was good, it does not look realistic and that could make things more uncertain.
The 132 kV transmission line project completion deadline has been extended until December 30, the fourth extension so far, since work on the project started in 2016.
The Independent Power Producers’ Association Nepal said that the project cannot be completed in the four months given the current situation and also the upcoming festive seasons.
“It’s an important project and should be completed on time but there should not be uncertainties to the project which has already been delayed,” said Ashish Garg, vice-president of the association. “It’s not a realistic extension. Frequent changes in the deadline will make things uncertain. The electricity authority should have come up with a realistic extension deadline.”
The extension will force the Upper Solu Hydroelectric Project in Solukhumbu district developed by private power producers to incur more losses as around 23.5 megawatts of energy it churns out is going to waste due to a lack of transmission line connecting it to consumers. The project had started to generate energy on February 20.
As per the power purchase agreement, the electricity authority has to pay fines amounting to 45 percent of total losses caused by spillage of power from those projects in absence of transmission infrastructure. “But unfortunately, the Nepal Electricity Authority has not compensated the producer,” said Garg. “It’s a failed promise.”
Janardan Gautam, chief of the Solu corridor project, admits that the December deadline still looks uncertain. He said that a mid-April deadline for next year was more realistic. “But we are doing our best to finish the project on time.”
“The spread of coronavirus has not only disrupted the supply chain of components used in projects but has also impacted the availability of the workforce,” said Gautam.
“It’s a tight deadline given the difficulties to mobilize workers.” Recently, the project contractor brought 31 workers but there is a requirement for 200 staff. “The contractors need to conduct PCR tests on workers and put them in quarantine for 14 days after they are brought to the project site.”
The project is funded through government investment and a concessional loan from Export-Import Bank of India. The Nepal Electricity Authority had awarded the contract to the Indian contractor Mohan Energy in March 2016. The 30-month project became effective on September 25, 2016 with the completion deadline set for March 24, 2019. The project deadline, however, was extended by 10 months until January 2020. It was again extended by 4 months until May and another 45 days until mid-July.
The project envisages building 302 transmission towers and installing 132 kV double circuit cables to evacuate power from hydropower plants in Solukhumbu and the surrounding region to eastern Nepal and the national grid.
The contractor has so far finished foundation works of 285 towers out of 302 transmission towers. According to Gautam, 204 pylons are upright along the 90-km-long route of the distribution infrastructure in Siraha, Udaipur, Okhaldhunga and Solukhumbu districts. “Still, 98 pylons are yet to be erected,” he said.
Lack of a proper transmission infrastructure had worried the promoters of under-construction independent hydel plants in Solukhumbu over possible spillage of electricity. The promoters complained that delays by the power utility in executing the project in the stipulated time would translate into losses amounting to millions of rupees.
Tower construction works have not begun in Udaypur district owing to obstruction by locals of Maruwa Harit Community Forest in Katari. The project has planned to install 12 transmission pylons in the community forest area. “The mayor of Udaipur had assured us that all issues would be cleared. It has been two years since the assurance was made but so far nothing has been sorted out,” said Gautam.
The country experienced an acute energy crisis at the beginning of 2010, with daily power cuts lasting almost 16 hours, and this continued to be a major problem in the following year. This prompted the government to announce an ‘energy emergency’ which lasted four and a half years.
At that time, the government had planned to generate 2,500 megawatts. The private sector was tasked to generate electricity through six hydropower projects, named the Super Six, on the Solu River, which together would produce 217 megawatts.
The Nepal Electricity Authority signed power purchase agreements with the Super Six and five of them—82 MW Lower Solu, 23.5 MW Upper Solu, 18 megawatt Beni Hydropower Project, 86 MW Solu Khola (Dudhkoshi) and another 5 MW project—will require power evacuation from the Solu corridor transmission line into the national grid through a new transmission line.
“All issues need to be sorted out as soon as possible, otherwise private producers will incur massive losses,” said Garg, who is also the director of Lower Solu project. “However, the forest issue in Udaypur has still not been sorted out.”
“Our project [Lower Solu] is 90 percent complete. The completion date was set for December but due to Covid-19, it has been delayed,” he said, adding that early completion of the transmission project will assure investors that their energy will not go to waste.