Punatsangchu-I dam site abandoned to build a barrage

The government invested around Nu 23bn on Punatsangchu I dam site

The current Punatsangchu I dam site will be abandoned as a third party foreign expert has recommended that the Punatsangchu I project abandon its current dam site and instead build a barrage upstream, disclosed Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma. 

Building a barrage upstream is expected to begin in February 2022 and will complete in 2025, Lyonpo shared this in response to a question on the delay of the completion of the Punatsangchu I project during the question hour session in the National Assembly on Friday.  

Bartsham – Shongphu MP, Passang Dorji (Ph.D.) said almost 13 years have passed since the Punatsangchu I dam site has started and asked the Economic Affairs Minister to clarify on the progress status of the Punatshangchu I, II, and the Kholongchu Hydropower project. 

However, with the recommendation of the third party foreign expert, building the dam at the current site will continue after some strengthening measures.

According to Lyonpo, the government has invested almost Nu 81bn for the Punatsangchu I dam from the estimated budget of Nu 95bn.

“Around Nu 23bn has been lost in maintenance work at the dam site,” Lyonpo said, adding that Punatsangchu I is with a geologically weak right bank that threatened the stability of the dam in the future on the current spot.

Lyonpo said that the dam had to be abandoned because an external expert third party did not agree on the factor of safety to build a dam at the current location. “The government has decided to build a barrage, where we don’t have to invest around Nu 25bn on the site.”

Lyonpo shared that the government had appointed this third party foreign expert after two Indian expert agencies, the Central Water Commission (CWC), which is the P-1 project’s civil engineering consultant, and the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to review to build a dam at the current location. 

“There were recommendations to build the dam at the P-I current site after some strengthening measures,” Lyonpo said, adding that the government also had to look and study possibilities to build the barrage as well.

According to Lyonpo, dam sites have a minimum factor of safety and hence it was not safe enough to build a dam. “A dam significantly raises the water level and has storage capacity while a barrage will help in diverting the water flow,” he said. 

Lyonpo shared with the house that around 90% of the Punatshangchu-II project has been completed. The work has been delayed because of labor issues due to the Covid-19.  

“We have recruited almost 2,000 Bhutanese employees, but due to the lack of expertise the work is further extending,” he said.

Lyonpo shared that the government has estimated to complete the Puna-II within two years, where the government has expected to complete the Puna-II in 2022 before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Kholongchhu hydroelectric project is a 600MW run-of-the-river hydropower facility under construction on the Kholongchhu in Bhutan. It is the first-ever energy project to be developed through a joint venture partnership between India and Bhutan.

Lyonpo shared that an inter-governmental agreement was signed between the Government of India and the Royal Government of Bhutan in April 2014 to jointly develop the Kholongchhu project as well as three other hydroelectric power projects in Bhutan.

The project has faced construction delays as a tariff determination for a long-term Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) for the signing of the Concession Agreement (CA) could not be finalized between the two governments, Lyonpo said. 

“The tariff setting was finalized and the CA was finally signed in June 2020, paving the way for the resumption of the construction works,” he said. 

The pre-construction works for the project are nearing completion, while the contracts for the main civil works including the construction of the dam, headrace tunnel, and the powerhouse are yet to be decided.

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu