Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Loknath Sharma

Government to shift its focus to existing hydro projects

Although hydro power is one of the most important source of revenue in the country, but it constitutes around 73 percent of the national debt, and although government has assured the people that hydro debt is self-liquidating, concerns has been raised on what the government is doing to bring the hydro projects to fruitful conclusions with increasing hydro debts.

During the question and answer session of national assembly, MP Rinzin Jamtsho of Kengkhar-Weringla constituency raised a question about commencement of new projects to which the Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that while Hydro-power projects have yielded benefits in the past, the government is currently focusing on enhancement of the benefit and studying the pros and cons of the existing hydropower projects.

He submitted that the possibility of new projects producing more benefits is higher if they are started after carrying out in-depth studies of the existing projects.

Out of the ten hydro electric projects being developed, Mangdechu has yielded some profitable benefits to the country. Lyonpo further added that opening up a new project requires for many uncertain variables to be considered; natural disaster like landslides and floods as well as geological surprises. Most hydro projects have been adversely affected by geological surprises especially during underground tunneling in the relatively young mountainous countries like Bhutan.

Even with the best of geological investigations, occurrences of shear zones and underground lakes and streams can result into serious time and cost over-runs. “Taking Punatsangchu as an example, the estimated cost of setting up a hydro project is, lets assume, 35 lakhs in Ngultrums but as we begin the construction process, we might encounter some geological surprises/ factors that we failed to account for and the cost of setting up the project might double or even triple which will bring the whole construction process to a halt due to lack of budget, “Lyonpo explained in the assembly.

“That’s why instead of trying to open up a new project, we must focus on the existing ones and make sure the existing projects become fruitful, after which we will shift our attention to commencing new projects,” Lyonpo added,” We have been talking about and are very much interested in Sunkosh project, but the issue we are currently facing is that DPR (Detailed Project Report) is old and no longer reliable and needs to be updated.”

Regarding Kuri-Gongri, Lyonpo warned that if kept going on with the project in the same way, there is high chance of repeating the same scenario of the Punatsangchu 1 project due to geological surprises and so the whole detailed assessment has to be redone again.

The government is also focusing on Dorjilung and Nyera-Amri as well as building storage basin like Gongri basin since most of the hydro projects in Bhutan are based on run-off water. The Government said must learn from Punatsangchu and Kholongchu projects and looking at pros and cons, must base its foundations on past experiences and knowledge to build a profitable and sustainable hydro project that is beneficial to Bhutan.

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