Sunday, August 2, 2015

Failure Cases of Micro Hydro Projects, How and Who is responsible

AEPC and its programmes have now started to focus more on solar and wind technologies to provide decentralized electricity, again heading from mistakes towards blunders
 32  1 

Although this is a very sad case, this is also a representative case about the development of micro hydro projects all over the country. Being a staunch believer about the prospect of the decentralized micro hydropower development in the country, I tried to collect some information about the main causes of failures of these exceptionally country suitable, proven and indigenous technology in our country. In fact, the micro hydropower technology could be considered as the Nepalese identity as well if the projects were implemented as per its aspirations, but alas, all in vain.
As reported, the Rural Energy Development Programme of the UNDP Nepal had started to fund for the installations of the MHP since 1998 in five VDCs at once, namely Bhoksing, Bhuktangle, Kyang, Bachcha and Pangrang. Two projects viz. Chhahare and Chharchhare Khola each of 6 and 9 kW were said to have been supported by the REDP. The cost at that time was almost 1.5 million for Chhahare Khola and two million rupees for Chharchhare Khola micro hydro. The cost was very high at that time; however, the project justified the high cost as these were the demonstration projects, the projects that could be replicated in other feasible parts of the country! The main reasons for the failure of the projects were the lack of technical know-how amongst the engineers involved, their insincerity and negligence to work, tendency to falsely report that everything is done excellently as well as indifferent but the selfish nature of the CTA who only believed works in papers rather than in actual deeds. But the main reason behind all these failures remained the non-transparent motives of the personnel involved!! Perhaps, the works of INGOs and development partners including the UNDP focuses more on touting on unrealistic successes than bringing on surface the real facts. As reported, the micro hydros were and still are required to be promoted in such areas where the possibility of extension of national grid is not foreseen at least for ten to fifteen years from the date of planning. The financial viability of any MH project is assessed considering the 15 years of minimum life of the project, although the scheme could run for generations with regular repair and maintenance. These two projects were problematic from the very beginning as the site planning was carried out exceptionally in a wrong way. The flow was measured 15 liter per second (lps) for Chhahare Khola and 20 lps of Chharchhare Khola MHPs. As known, there is no discharge at all in these streams during dry seasons. Even in wet seasons, the water is utilized for irrigation and there is little left for power generation. The Gautam Engineering Co that was offered the job of supply n installation was a newly prequalified company at that time for the installation works which had no required experiences for manufacturing of pelton turbines at all. So, these projects never ever produced the required amount of power, however, the subsidy as well as other financial supports were provided to these schemes with wide dissemination of news about the development of successful demonstration projects in the district. In fact, these two sites were hardly suitable for the installation of pico hydro projects.
The Ghatte Khola MHDS in Kyang was reported to have produced 16 kW with a cost of some three million rupees (including voluntary labour) during 2001. The water source in the detailed project report differs from the one that is now utilizing the water for power generation. The Technical Officer went to the site to fix the can alignment during pre-monsoon month and as he saw some landslides in the proposed canal alignment, he chose the different water source located on the west part of the village, in consultation with the district manager, and thus fixed the new canal alignment. The projects and the subsidy are approved based on the features and findings mentioned in the DPR. There is so called Technical Review Committee, a high level committee of MHP specialists of the country, to review and suggest improvements upon requirement and give its final approval for implementation!! Except for the load center, all the parameters of the project differed. The problem in this project is again the flow in the stream which is far less than the design flow of 55 lps. As the length of earthen canal (mostly existing) was 800 meters, whatever water remains at source/ intake is completely lost during conveyance. But the most problematic part is the selection of the VDC itself for programme implementation as it is a neighboring Shivalaya VDC (district headquarters with national grid) and adjacent VDC to Bhukatangle, where a 14 MW Modi hydropower Project was on the verge of completion during the time. So, it was very obvious that the national grid might have extended in Kyang within a year or so in the VDC. VDCs for MH installations in the REDP were mostly selected in view of ease to reach the site for programme personnel in the pretext that the sites were chosen to demonstrate the real effects and impacts of MHP to aspiring communities.
The Bachha Khola II of Pangrang was commissioned in 2001 that was said to have produced 11 kW that cost around 2 million rupees. Almost all the projects in Parvat seem to have been offered to Gautam Engineering, a new entrant in the MHP sector by the District Energy Section. All the subsidy and amounts were paid to the supplier after the power output verification. But, after two years, it was revealed that the MH system never produced more than 3 kW, even during rainy season. The company later changed the turbine confessing its shortcomings; however, the plant never produced more than 5 kW. As the number of beneficiaries were just 50 households, the power was felt sufficient, hence the community people did not thought it a big issue, as they had only provided some voluntary labour for the project.
The Aguwa Khola MH Demonstration Scheme (12 kW) in Saraunkhola VDC was commissioned in 2002 with a total project cost of some 205 million rupees (including local labour cost). This project never produced more than 4 kW of power although the payment was made for 12 kW after completing the full procedure of commissioning and power output verification!! This project was also installed by Gautam Engineering Works of Butwal. As in most of the MHP projects in the country, this project also used an earthen irrigation canal that was some 3 km in length. The design discharge was taken as 30 lps which was mostly consumed for irrigation during wet seasons and there remained no flow at forebay during dry periods. All the water used to get lost in conveyance due to spillage and evaporation. This project remained closed for about four years during the period of conflict in the country.
Another project in Bachha VDC was Bachha Khola MHDS to produce 19 kW, again by Gautam Enginering Works. Bachha VDC was not too far from the district headquarters and there existed high chances for grid extension within couple of years. Thus, the selection of VDC was wrong with a wrong motive too! This project could not run satisfactorily from the very first day owing to one or the other problem. As the water was very scarce in the area, not enough for irrigation, the power generation did not naturally get any priority.
Other VDCs selected were Huwas and Dhuwakot during 2006 when the national grid extension was in progress in the vicinity. These two projects also could not produce required amount of power of 12 and 16 kW respectively due to wrong assessment of flow (46 and 68 lps respectively) with long irrigation conveyance systems of earthen type having length of 2.6 kms and 1.3 kms respectively. Still all these so called Demonstration Projects were heavily touted as highly successful projects (pls try to revisit the Annual Project Reports (very thick and shiny of REDP of the years). The above mentioned projects could never benefit the local community people, on the contrary, they tried very hard every time to bring into operation, but in vain. The resources from the VDCs and DDC Parvat were also heavily injected in these projects as the DDC Parvat used to get royalty form Modi Hydropower project in later years, but nothing helped to operationalise these borne-sick projects. Thus, national grid was extended in all the project areas. The REDP tried to cover up its wrongdoings and shortcomings by falsely promising to sell the power to NEA thru connecting these MHPs to national grid. Various studies were conducted hiring expensive consultants too for the purpose. And to manage all those kinds of works, the REDP moved forward to transform all the MHP management committees into MH Cooperatives as the programme considered the cooperative a panacea to get rid from all the ills and problems. Again, heavy resources were poured to transform these Committees into cooperatives which the REDP loudly touted as great success to bring miracle in micro hydro arena. All the stakeholders were trained, workshops and seminars were conducted at all levels to tout this ‘visionary initiative’. Despite all those efforts and pouring of millions of precious resources, nothing was yielded.
Story of Thado Khola Demonstration Project (27 kW), in Bhukatangle:
The Thado Khola Micro Hydro Demonstration Scheme was launched in one of the accessible VDC of Parvat- Bhukatangle, in the year 1998 where the NEA was on the verge of commissioning a 14 MW Modi Hydropower project. It was commissioned in 2000 with the total cost of some four million rupees. As reported the project was to produce 27 kW of power. At a time when the NEA was erecting the transmission lines to the cover the whole VDC and adjoining VDCs like Kyang, the REDP selected this VDC with ill motive and wrong intentions. With the aim of illuminating the area ahead of the NEA grid, the district REDP expedited the work such that community was not required to construct the canal. The district REDP, instead of excavating the canal, bought some 800 meters of high duty (heavy wall thickness HDPE pipes of 8 kgf/cm2) with 300 mm OD (large size and costly). The flow for power generation was considered as 35 lps from a small spring source, thus suffered heavily during dry seasons. But the less flow never became a problem since the project never came into operation as the national grid started to provide electricity to the entire community. The height for power generation was also found to be around 125 m as against 155 meters mentioned in the DPR. The REDP tried to pacify the local community people and other stakeholders by cajoling them with the idea of selling the electricity to the NEA. For that to happen, the REDP again hired expensive consultants to conduct study for grid connection. Again, as medicine to all ills of MHP, the programme poured resources heavily to transform local electricity committee into MH Cooperative. The attempt to connect was lauded as a pilot project to open up door to other projects of grid reaching areas. Various workshops and seminars were conducted to highlight the visionary and pioneering work of grid inter-connection. Despite so much hulla –baloo, nothing happened on the ground. Thus, like all other projects in the district, this one of the most costly project of time was abandoned to wait its natural death.
Although all the MHP projects in the district were wrongly planned and surveyed, however, these projects got huge precious resources from different stakeholders, including the local bodies. In spite of that, all these so called demonstration schemes were a total flop and remained as a black mark in the sphere of micro hydro community. But, the biter fact was the donor-the UNDP and its project never considered to acknowledge their shortcomings, instead are making high sounds about the achievements in the district.
For doing marvelous works to develop such highly successful demonstration MH schemes, the UNDP/ REDP highly regarded the works of the district engineers and rewarded them by providing them good transfers, promotions as well as sending them abroad for higher studies. These extraordinary personalities are non other than the ex AEPC Director and incumbent AEPC Director. The then District Programme Manager Mr. Narayan Chaula-gaine was transferred to district Tanahun where he again became successful to develop other demonstration MH schemes like in Parvat, whereas Mr. Ram Prasad Dhat-Tal  was promoted to work as District Manager in Bajura district, the district of micro hydro disasters!!  As if that reward was not enough, they both were strongly recommended and facilitated to pursue higher studies in Germany by the REDP NPM Mr. Kira n Man Sin. The REDP central level officials who so intensely and effectively provided their high level of technical inputs and carried out vigorous monitoring works were duly regarded and rewarded by the REDP/ UNDP, who now occupy higher positions in UNDP and its programmes. This is the  demonstrative example of how the development is brought by our development partners in Nepal.
The case in Parvat district is not the only one. Similar situations or even worse have been observed in districts like Tanahun, Dhading, Kavre, Dadeldhura, Bajura, Pyuthan, Tehrathum and many more, where the programme provided high focus and injected heavy resources. Do not talk about the Far-west or Mid-west regions where the entire region is a complete failure and total flop with respect to MHP development, an extremely sad situation. One of the reasons was that there existed influential leaders from various political parties or high ranking AEPC, GoN’s officials from those districts and the concerned REDP personnel chose better to dance to the tune of these chameleon officials rather than work for the sake of down trodden community people! 
Having tired of covering its wrong doings and failure cases as well as being unsuccessful to develop really sound and sustainable MHP schemes in remote and needy locations, the AEPC and its programmes have now started to focus more on solar and wind technologies to provide decentralized electricity, again heading from mistakes towards blunders!!!
- See more at: