Hollow Promise To Eliminate Load-shedding : Uttam Maharjan
There is no point in touting Nepal as the second richest country in hydropower. We have, in fact, been sick and tired of hearing this. We have to be down-to-earth and admit that we are far behind in the hydropower sector. That we have been able to produce around 800 megawatts of electricity so far is more than enough to show how poor we are in the hydropower sector despite having abundant water resources on hand.
The ongoing embargo and Madhes agitation have aggravated the energy sector. In fact, every sector has been in chaos due to the unfavourable situation prevailing in the country at the moment. Some of the hydropower projects have been closed, whereas others are facing difficulty in operation.
The hydropower sector has big potential for energising the momentum of development in the country, but many adverse factors have stymied its development. The most prominent factor is, no doubt, politicisation. Whenever a hydropower is about to be launched, politicisation comes into play. Some political leaders do not hesitate to label such a project as anti-national. Even the locals are instigated to put forth demand after demand such as employment, free distribution of shares and construction of roads or schools. They are so instigated not by one political party but several political parties, thus piling up so many demands that they cannot be met. Under such a pretext, they tend to obstruct the construction of the hydropower projects.
The locals should understand that water resources like rivers flowing through their area do not belong to them. They are national property. As things stand, they tend to think that the rivers are theirs! Yes, some benefits can be given to them, but demanding the impossible at the instigation of various political parties cannot be considered propitious and judicious.
On the other hand, there are various bureaucratic and policy-level hassles to be crossed for the groundwork to be prepared for the initiation of a hydropower project. Those involved in hydropower projects claim that bureaucracy and red tape are acting as great hurdles in hydropower development. Hopping from ministry to ministry and department to department and abiding by dozens of rules and regulations are really a cumbersome proposition.
Despite the above bleak scenario and complications, the Oli-led government has announced that load-shedding will have been eliminated by next year without presenting any realistic plan for generating adequate hydropower. This is not the first time that a government has come up with an unrealistic announcement of ending load-shedding. In the past, too, various governments have announced measures for ending load-shedding. Some governments also talked about producing 10,000 or 20,000 megawatts of electricity. The recent announcement of ending load-shedding can be termed as a mere gimmick designed to throw dust in the eyes of the public.
There is not even an iota of doubt that load-shedding can come to an end when there is adequate generation of electricity. For this, there is no option but to complete the ongoing hydropower projects and launch new ones. But neither the government nor the Nepal Electricity Authority seems to be serious about developing the hydropower sector. One of the glaring examples is the 750 MW West Seti Hydropower Project to be developed in financial collaboration with China. The project has been in limbo for the last four years, but the government is not willing to initiate the project any time soon. What is more, the Authority now claims that the power generated by the project will be excessive and such excessive electricity cannot be sold!
The intention of the government seems to be that the public use emergency lights, inverters, generators or suchlike devices for lighting purposes rather than supply electricity in an uninterrupted fashion. Load-shedding has assumed dangerous proportions nowadays. Load-shedding hours are frequently hiked, explaining to the public the state of dwindling levels of water in the rivers. This is because most of the hydropower projects are running on the run-of-the-river model. What is required is reservoir-type hydropower projects that are not affected by the decreasing levels of water in the rivers.
The government lacks vision. It does not make long-term planning for the sustainable development of the hydropower sector. The current situation marked by a scarcity of petroleum products, cooking gas and other essential commodities has worsened the load-shedding condition. The other day, the government suggested that the public use electric devices such as rice cookers, electric heaters and induction heaters for cooking purposes and that electricity would be available in the mornings and evenings. Now, it is claimed that the load-shedding hours have been hiked because of, inter alia, the use of such electric devices! Now, depending solely on such devices is almost out of the question due to long hours of load-shedding. Further, the supply of electricity during the no-load-shedding hours is also erratic due to the transformers not being able to bear the load.
Some years ago, a transformer scandal surfaced in the country. Most of the transformers were found to be substandard, indicating that they were not strong enough to bear the required load. In this connection, some high-ranking officials of the Nepal Electricity Authority were also arrested, only to be released later. Now, perhaps the same transformers are disrupting the supply of electricity due to their weak load-bearing capacity. The Nepal Electricity Authority reasons that they are facing difficulty in repairing or replacing such transformers due to a scarcity of petroleum products. If so, what was the Authority doing in normal times despite knowing that the transformers were defective?
The other point worth mulling is the leakage of electricity. The Nepal Electricity Authority is well aware of the areas where leakages take place as evidenced by the frequent publication of notices in the newspapers mentioning that extra load-shedding will be imposed on the areas where leakages are taking place. The higher the leakage, the higher the extra load-shedding hours. Despite having full knowledge, the Nepal Electricity Authority has not deemed it necessary to curb illegal leakages of electricity. If such leakages could be curbed, the load-shedding hours could be reduced.
Thus, eliminating load-shedding forever has been well-nigh impossible given the functioning of the Nepal Electricity Authority and the government. In fact, they do not apparently want load-shedding to be eliminated. That is why, there is apathy towards developing various aspects of electricity like generation, transmission and distribution. As long as the overnment and the Nepal Electricity Authority show the will to develop the hydropower sector, the country will never be free from load-shedding.