EDITORIAL: A waste of energy

Instead of unveiling ‘new’ policies, the energy minister should focus on giving continuity to the existing plans to make the country self-sufficient in energy

It does not mean that government ministries lack any short- or long-term policies. They do have policies and programmes to move ahead. However, a general tendency among all ministries is that every time a new minister assumes office s/he thinks that there is a policy deficit to expedite the works as envisaged by the government and ruling parties. The Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation (MoEWRI) is no exception. The ministry has no dearth of policies and plans to make the country self-sufficient in energy, which is undoubtedly the main driving force for the national economy. Despite the fact, Minister for Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Barsha Man Pun on Tuesday unveiled a 125-point white paper and roadmap to generate 15,000MW of electricity in 15 years. It means that he plans to generate 1,000MW of electricity per year, also roping in the private sector. This is next to impossible to achieve the target given the ministry’s present institutional capacity, financial resources and the technical know-how available in the country.

Nepal has so far been able to generate a total of 1,073MW of electricity – 562MW by the state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and 511MW by the private sector – in the past 107 years. Based on the energy figure, a simple calculation is that the country has, on an average, produced around 10MW of electricity every year. The current domestic demand of energy hovers around 1,300MW. To meet the energy demand – simply to manage the loadshedding crisis – the country has been importing up to 450MW of electricity from India. Pun’s energy roadmap is not new. It is the seventh strategic plan for the management of water resources and power sector development since 2001. The minister has not shown any credible financial resources to generate 15,000MW of energy within 15 years.

The minister must have thought that the private sector will make huge investment in the energy sector. The private sector seems to be more interested in developing run-of-the-river (RoR) projects which are cost-effective and can be completed within a short period of time. Even for that, the NEA has fixed 30 per cent quota (3,000MW) for RoR by 2026. This quota has been over as the private sector has already signed PPA with the NEA under the “take or pay” scheme. Instead of unveiling “new” policies, the minister should have given continuity to the existing plans that are in the pipelines or in the process of completion. The first task the ministry can do is unbundling the NEA – generation, transmission and distribution – to make the energy sector more competitive and to attract foreign direct investment in it. The ministry must heed to timely utilise $500 million US grant offered in September last year. According to the agreement, a large portion of the grant will be used to upgrade 300-km long transmission lines. However, the NEA has been delaying in awarding contracts to build new transmission lines evacuating power from the private sector’s hydel projects that are about to complete within a couple of years. Policy-level consistency is the prerequisite to see steady growth in the energy sector. This is the only thing the ministry lakhs.

Flood threat

Monsoon floods last year claimed more than 100 lives and affected a total of 1.7 million people, mostly in the Tarai districts. Around 460,000 people were displaced. Rautahat and Sarlahi districts were among the 37 districts that were hit hard by the floods last year. The nearing monsoon has this year again made people in these two districts worried. Lakhs of people are said to be at high risk of floods in the two districts as the authorities concerned have failed to repair the flood-damaged dykes in around dozen places near the Bagmati and Lalbakaiya rivers. An official at the Water Induced Disaster and River Control Division Office No. 3 has said construction work could not start due to the lack of budget.

Failure to start construction of the dykes in the regions which were hit hard by floods even after one year “for the lack of budget” shows nothing but apathy on the part of the state to the problems of the common man. Monsoon will enter the country next month. Situations in other flood-affected districts are also no better. But the state’s disaster preparedness has been disastrous. Authorities concerned cannot turn a blind eye to the sufferings of the people.