Powering India-5 Hydropower

In 2005, we were in USA. One of the most impressive places that we visited was Hoover Dam. I was amazed with the number of tourists visiting the site and the amount of revenues that must be getting generated along with significant employment through various service providers.

During our school/college days, we heard of Pandit Nehru’s Bhakra Nangal. Maithon and Tillaiya of DVC were in West Bengal itself. We visited Maithon from IIT. We could have visited Bhakara Nangal too during out last trips to Manali but for Sirohis. I don’t know if Bhakra has some basic infrastructure to interest tourists. Unfortunately, the tourism has never been the part of initial design of these huge manmade projects.

When we were visiting Hoover, I thought of Bhakra a number of times. Perhaps I mentioned too in my writing at that time. Interestingly, the Bhakra Nangal plant, now more than 40 years old, has operating costs of only Rs 0.10 or US$ 0.002 per unit. DVC units will be costing similarly. What can be a better and cheaper (too) way for power generation? A hydropower plant neither wastes the water it uses, nor pollutes it.

But then something went wrong at national level. Shockingly, from about 46% in 1970, the share of hydroelectric power dropped to 40% in 1980, 29% in 1990 and, again, to just about 24.8% in June 2007. Project like Sardar Sarovar kept getting dragged. Medha Patkar, Arudhanti Ray, protest rallies and court cases became the hot news in media for years to obstruct hydroelectric projects. India could not cash on its huge potential of hydropower. Interestingly, the oldest Hydropower power plant in Darjeeling District in West Bengal with installed capacity is 130KW was commissioned in the year 1897 and is still in operation.

As against the estimated 150,000 MW of hydroelectric power potential in the country, the installed capacity is only 33,486 MW. Work on another 15,000 mw is in progress. But 80% of the potential still remains to be realised.

Countries like Canada and Norway have exploited 48% and 58% of its hydro potential respectively. Brazil has attained 31%. As estimated, hydropower supplies at least 50% of electricity production in 66 countries and at least 90% in 24 countries.

Interestingly, three gauges project in China on Yang-Yang River is the largest power station in the world having installed capacity of around 18,200 MW. Earlier the world’s largest operating hydroelectric power station is ITAIPU with installed capacity of 12600 MW located at the Border of Brazil and Paraguay.

While the media is flooded with debate on the Nuclear Deal with US and its importance for the energy demand of the country, an aggressive policy and execution of hydropower projects could have solved the power shortage to a great extent.

Many more have also come in operation in last decade, and many are in planning stages. We saw the Tehri Dam in Uttarakhand while in construction when we went for Chardham of Uttarakhand. That was commissioned in 2006. The Nathpa Jhakri and Koyna IV projects were completed in 2002 and 1998 respectively. Two hydropower projects — the Rampur Hydropower Project downstream from Nathpa Jhakri on the River Satluj in Himachal Pradesh and the Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydropower Project on the River Alaknanda in Uttarakhand are under progress. Image below will show the various locations and progress.

One of my friends is in the business of small hydropower projects. He has completed one near Manali against all odds and obstacles because of the administrative inefficiency and carelessness. The whole of the northern India along the Himalayan range from J&K to Arunachal Pradesh has huge potential for hydropower projects. Naturally the hydro projects may be the big ones such as Sardar Sarovar that involves environmental concerns emanating from submergence of large areas involving forest, rehabilitation and resettlement of the people and safety of dams. The state government must go for smaller hydropower projects at least on faster track, as it hardly has the rehabilitation problem that is holding up the bigger projects.

Interestingly, hydropower projects up to 25mw capacity are eligible for substantial cash subsidy from the ministry of non-conventional energy sources. A project income is exempt from tax for ten years and has a long concession period of about 40 years while providing a perennial stream of revenue to the investors. The construction may take hardly 2-3 year.

As reported, Himachal Pradesh had allotted almost 400 small hydropower sites to various potential developers since 1997 and has also invited applications for allotting another 200 sites. Surprisingly, just 15 hydropower projects came up in Himachal in last decade. Is not something strange and drastically wrong?

NHPC is the major player in bigger hydroporojects. Even NTPC, Tata Power, Reliance Energy, Lanco and GMR are planning investments to tap the hydro resource. Possibility to get carbon credits under Kyoto Protocol is more for hydro projects.

Will the administration take the challenge to get to the target? Will all the hydro project sites be made places of tourists’ interest too? Will the water reservoir of bigger projects be made a source for soft water fishes and provide employment to willing people?

The country policy document on hydropower intends “to increase the hydropower share in overall generation to 40%.” India’s minister of power claims to make India power surplus by 2012. He has plans to do that and had set a target too. But he may miss the target that has happened time and again for last few decades.

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