Govt. not in a rush to commission other hydropower projects: MoEA Minister

The minister says it is instead trying to complete the projects that are in the process

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma informed the members of the National Assembly that the government is not in a rush to commission other hydropower projects, which are in the pipeline.

During the Question Hour, MP Rinzin Jamtsho from the Kengkhar-Weringla constituency asked the minister about the government’s pledge to construct other hydropower projects that are in the pipeline.

The projects include Dorji Luung, Kuri Gongri, Kholongchhu, Gongrichhu, Gamrichhu, and Nyera Amachhu in the east, Chamkharchhu project in the central, Wangchhu project in the west, and Sunkosh and Amochhu project in the South.

MP Rinzin Jamtsho asked if the government could update the House on its plan for commissioning one of these projects through reprioritization during its tenure.

That the country had to be mindful of how much it could handle given that big and other projects are being implemented, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said the government won’t commission these hydro projects to secure votes for the next election.

“To date, the government had commissioned three hydro projects including Mangdechhu, Puna I, and II, but it needs to be mindful of how much debt had increased and the situation of these three projects at this juncture,” the minister said.

“We need not have to feel proud of earning Nu 12-14bn from the Mangdechhu project last year but losing almost Nu 90bn in one Punatsangchhu is a sad part. When we talk about hydro projects we need to talk in general,” Lyonpo added.

According to the minister, earlier hydro projects like Tala and Chhukha have been commissioned, and implemented properly on time and have a huge benefit.

And while Puna II is almost complete, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said, “We also need to be mindful of its tariff and previous module including Inter-Governmental (IG), Joint Venture (JV), grants, and loans.”

“We are worried about Puna I and II. When other alternatives like solar and wind energy have come in and if we rush on hydro projects, we also have to be mindful before it is too late for the country,” Lyonpo added.

The minister shared that in 2006, Bhutan and India have an agreement to harness 5,000 MW of electric power through hydropower projects and it was increased to 10,000MW in 2009. The works were to begin in 2010-11 and be complete in 2020.

“But these works haven’t even started,” the minister said.

“Similarly, Puna I has been almost 10-11 years now, but it is not complete yet. This is because the DPRs of these hydropower projects have been made earlier and need to be revised,” Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said, adding that the situation of hydropower projects needs to be understood with change.

Maintaining that the government is not in a rush to commission new projects, the minister said it is trying to complete the projects that are in the process. The government is also revising the earlier DPRs and updating the projects that are in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, the total installed hydropower capacity of the country stands at 2,334MW, which is 6.3% of the total estimated hydropower potential of the country. The hydropower projects involve huge investments and are implemented outside the Five Year Plans and annual budgets of the government.

The Economic Affairs Minister shared that the Punatsangchhu-I hydroelectric project with 1,200MW is expected to be commissioned in March 2025.

Considering the number of critical issues concerning the construction of the dam and its structural integrity and long-term performance, Lyonpo said that the government had approved the engagement of international independent experts to review the dam’s stability and safety including the preparation of the Barrage DPR Option in June 2020.

Lyonpo said that the overall progress of the project was impacted due to manpower shortages because of the Covid-19 pandemic and adverse geological conditions at various work fronts.

As of February 2022, Nu 81,903.000mn has been disbursed and 87.41% of the works have been completed for Puna I. Punatsangchhu – II hydroelectric project with 1,020 MW is currently scheduled to be commissioned in 2023/24.

The project cost as per the DPR and bilateral agreement were Nu 37,778mn.

However, the project was submitted for the second Revised Cost Estimate (RCE) to the Government of India in 2020. The second RCE is expected to increase from the first RCE of Nu 72,906.200mn to about Nu 89,000.000mn.

As of February 2022, a total of Nu 74,459.230mn has been disbursed and 91.28% of the works of the project have been completed for Puna II.

The Kholongchhu Hydroelectric Project with 600 MW is the first joint venture project between the DGPC and a Public-Sector Undertaking (PSU) of India and was cleared for construction in 2014.

As of February 2022, a total of Nu 4,508.546mn has been disbursed. Tangsibji Hydro Energy Limited (THyE), which is a 100% subsidiary company of the DGPC, was incorporated on April 25, 2014, for the implementation of the 118MW Nikachhu Hydro Electric Project.

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu