The Hydropower Committee’s recommendation to go slow on hydro projects and approach them more strategically makes a lot of sense.
For too long, the ‘10,000 MW by 2020’ slogan, led to a mindset of developing hydropower for the sake of developing hydropower, no matter what the costs and consequences.
It is this mindset that partly led to poor quality studies and hurried decisions that has caused much delays and cost overruns in the Punatsangchu I and II projects.
Hydro projects in Bhutan have to align with the national economic and other goals and not the other way round.
The committee’s report shows that Bhutan can achieve its economic goals by going for lesser-in-number but more important reservoir projects, and that too in a careful and staggered manner.
In the process, we can ensure macro-economic stability, have manageable inflation rates, enjoy high economic growth rates and importantly lessen the environmental and social impact.
The committee’s recommendation to keep the Chamkarchu and Amochu basins free of hydro projects till 2030, and then let the next generation decide with better information on the effects of dam building on rivers is laudable.
The report is clear that Bhutan has to go for quality of projects over sheer quantity. In fact, a few quality projects that are implemented well will meet and exceed our economic targets in the long term.
This critical report is perhaps the first real effort by Bhutan to truly study and understand the impact of hydropower development.
The final decision and way forward lies with the new government. An encouraging sign is that the new government did not go overboard with its hydropower promises during the polls and so it has the political room to maneuver.
The government of the day will have the important advantage of having this report from day one. It should make use of the detailed insight for the nation’s long-term interest.