The bad news is that despite us being in the middle of the monsoon, NEA has just raised power rationing to seven hours daily. Even worse news is that this winter there will be electricity for only four hours a day.
Load-shedding is now a given, and like with all other shortages in this country, people have learnt to cope. Just like organisms adapt to small incremental doses of poison, Nepalis adapt to hardships heaped on them. But nothing is going to prepare us as individuals, families and as a country to the looming dark winter ahead.
There are lots of excuses for the current crisis. The conflict delayed big projects like Middle Marsyangdi and Kali Gandaki A. In the absence of storage projects, in the time of peak winter demand we have the lowest generation capacity from run-of-the-river schemes.
But Nepal's successive rulers can't say they had no warning. Alarm bells have been ringing for decades. Politicians were distracted by fighting, by infighting, by greed and corruption, but by and large, they were just incredibly incompetent. The prolonged transition since 2006 has meant that there was either no political will, or too much political interference, to recognise and resolve the emergency.
Which is why we are now faced with the spectre of 20-hour power cuts this winter. Despite all the warnings, only 8MW of power was added to the grid in the last fiscal year, while the increase in demand was 100MW. This fiscal year is even worse: there has been zero augmentation in supply. Not even in the worst-governed country in the world is there such ineptitude and irresponsibility. Our rulers have ensured that we as a nation take a great leap backward to the dark ages.
To shed some light into the crisis, as it were, let us look at the short-term projections. In five years, demand is set to rise to 1500MW which means we will need an installed capacity of 4500MW so as to cover for the winter deficit. The projects expected to be completed in the next few years, including Upper Tamakosi, Upper Trisuli 3A and 3B, and Chamelia, will only add 586MW to the grid. Which means the shortfall is here to stay for the next five years, even if those projects are completed on schedule. But at the rate at which licences are being mysteriously revoked, and then equally mysteriously re-issued a week later, that is not likely.
Foreign investors are being harassed either by the government, by local extortionists, or by the hydro mafia. Projects that were on the verge of starting construction have suddenly been stopped, local opposition has stalled three big projects with Indian investment, like Arun III, Budi Gandaki and Upper Karnali. The Brazilian investor, Engevix, is on the verge of pulling out of the 400MW Lower Arun.
The only long-term solution is to start building new plants in the 2,000MW range right away, and it would be even better if they are storage projects like the West Seti. For that to happen, Nepal needs to be more investment-friendly, tariffs need to be revised to make it worthwhile and the bureaucratic hurdles need to be smoothened.
NEA has said that the reason for the electricity shortfall this monsoon season was less than average rainfall in July and August and the grid collapse in northern India which lead to the reduction of Nepal's power import. What they fail to mention are the real reasons: incompetence, corruption, mismanagement and political interference.
To be sure, things have been moving. In the last government, the UML Energy Minister Gokarna Bista tried to remove the log jam on projects until his government itself was removed. The former parliament's Committee on Natural Resources completed the most detailed analysis yet of the problems and recommended solutions. Prime Minister Bhattarai doesn't have to re-invent the wheel, he should just read that report and get into action. Among the recommendations:
Political consensus on future strategy, less political interference in the work of NEA
Generate enough power to meet domestic demand for value-added industry and only then export
Immediately commission a reservoir project in each development zone
Unbundle transmission and distribution, address inefficiencies, corruption, pilferage
Power used to come out of the barrel of a gun for the Prime Minister's party. It should now come out of a hydro-electric turbine. If there is one thing the Nepali people will thank Baburam Bhattarai for, it will not be the token gesture of riding a Mustang, but acting now so there will be no power cuts by 2018.
Hello darkness my old friend, BHRIKUTI RAI
The politics of power is making Nepal powerless