Tenzing Lamsang/ Thimphu
The Indian Power Secretary Alok Kumar is in Bhutan for a 3-day visit from 29 October to 1 November to discuss the way forward for the 1,200 MW Punatsangchu-1 project and the 600 MW Kholongchu project.
The 10,000 MW by 2020 and the future of the hydropower cooperation between the two countries will also be discussed.
An important item on the agenda will be the future of the now closed KHEL joint venture and what is to be done with the project.
The Joint Venture model of the project between DGPC and SJVN did not work out as SJVN was not agreeing to give 20% of the dam and power house civil works to CDCL as agreed before, management control was fully under SJVN and the board was also in a stalemate due to equal membership which is not allowed by the Companies Act.
The project had done some works worth around Nu 5 bn.
The Kholongchu project could be taken up as an Inter-Governmental (IG) project between the two countries, but with certain reforms and changes in how the management and system is run.
The other major point of discussion will be on the P-1 project and the Bhutanese side will hope to hear from the power secretary on weather the Indian side agrees to Bhutan’s proposal to abandon the current dam site which is seen as being unsafe and to build a barrage instead.
The Indian side had constituted an independent team with no members from the consultants CWC and WAPCOS to study the safety of the current dam site and the Bhutanese proposal for a barrage.
This team also visited Bhutan and is expected to have submitted its report.
An official said, “The RGoB side communicated our stand long ago and we are waiting for their stand on the Dam versus the Barrage.”
Following the 2019 January slide the Central Water Commission (CWC) which is the civil works consultant for P-1 was asked to come up with a comprehensive solution. It gave its reports and solution by October and December 2019 recommending extensive strengthening works on the current site saying that the right bank is safe enough to build the dam.
A dam site would have to have a minimum factor of safety of 1 or above as per international standards while the European factor of safety is 1.5 to 1.8.
The CWC in its report and drawings gave a factor of safety of 1.2 to 1.4 for the site.
The Bhutanese side was not fully convinced with the review of the CWC and the strengthening measures and so it asked another Indian government company National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to do a review of the CWC proposal.
The NHPC in mid 2020 presented its review of the CWC report as a third party and disagreed with the CWC assessment and said the factor of safety is below 1 and hence it is not safe enough to build a dam.
The NHPC was saying that CWC’s strengthening measures and drawings for the right bank presented to the Technical Coordination Committee in October and December 2019 is not secure enough for a dam to be built right next to it.
The NHPC instead recommended to build a smaller structure in the form of a barrage 820 meters upstream of the current site.
The project authority asked to two companies with different findings to reconcile their contradictory findings. The two companies have now come back giving a factor of safety of 1.4.
However, this calls into question how the NHPC drastically changed its own stance and data to fit in with the CWC.
The government through DGPC had hired a foreign company to do a review of the review which also showed the current site to be unsafe with a recommendation for a barrage.
10,000 MW and modality
Apart from the above the talks will look at reviewing the 10,000 MW by 2020 and the umbrella agreement for it, as well as the models for doing projects.
A senior official said that since most of the 10,000 MW projects are not happening the review may also be a way to remove obligations of the projects by taking them off the list.
He said that if the 10,000 MW by 2020 is not possible then it is better to admit it and make it official. He said that there is a similar thinking on the Indian side too.
The official said that one of the discussions would be to do future bilateral projects under an improved system.
He said that even IG projects have faced problems and delays and so the suggestion is a better model with an improved structure where people are held accountable which is drawn from the recommendations of the ‘Hydropower Committee’ report of 2017 where an expert body was tasked to come up with a ‘Hydropower Development Strategy.’