Darkness beneath the wick: A look at hydroelectric power scenario in J&K
Amir Suhail Wani
Jammu & Kashmir is one of richest places in India in terms of its estimated hydel power capacity. The recent surveys have placed the hydel potential of state around 20,000 MW, which should be enough to cater the energy demands of most part of northern belt of India. But the ill fact remains that this erstwhile state has till now just exploited around 20% of its estimated potential, with the result that it is unable to cater to its own peak demand, leave apart exporting energy to the rest of the country. It is true that national companies like NHPC do export energy from its plants situated in valley, but the nature and context of this export is different and has no significant telling upon the energy status of the state.
The brute fact remains that during winters when demand touches maxima and because of lean discharge, production reaches minima, the state has to face worst form of load shedding, besides purchasing energy from national companies, which has huge telling upon the economy of the state.
According to official figures ,the government is currently spending Rs 21.07 crore per day on power purchase from power corporations to meet the power requirement of the state This lack of exploitation of hydel potential of the state has affected not only the energy scenario of the state, but has its consequences on national energy scenario as well. As an illustrative example, the optimal hydel:thermal ratio for India has been suggested to be around 40: 60. But the data collected for past two decades has revealed that while during the first two-three decades after independence, the hydro share in India was effectively 35% to 45%, it started falling down subsequently and in year 2000 it was bare 25%, too short of desired optimum.
No responsible country can afford to generate large blocks of electricity from fossil fuel driven plants for this practise is climatologically unfavourable and discouraged. Increasing fossil fuel based energy generation significantly contribute to environmental related problems both locally and globally. In this trillematic tussle of “environment, economy and energy”, it is hydropower which is going to be one of the most effective and robust responses to the problem in hand. Sachin Mishra notes that “Hydropower stations have the inherent ability for instantaneous starting, stopping and load variations which helps in improving the reliability of the system. Thus hydropower stations are best choice for meeting the peak demand”.
Hydropower stations also offer bright prospect in supplying the base load as the running cost in terms of fuels is effectively zero. There are a dozen of other features specific to hydro power plants that make them very attractive and a dependable choice to tackle the growing energy demands. But the conventional hydel projects above 25MW (the range varies from country to country) generally described as medium/large scale hydel plants suffer from a number of technical, environmental, economic and other constraints , which has lately reduced their power of attraction for developers and also forced governments to strictly reserve their ventures into large scale hydel projects. The huge capital investment that is entailed in the construction of large HEP’s makes the investors think again and again and adds to their reluctance from participating into such huge venture. The recent rise of cost per Megawatt incurred in the HEP scheme has further tightened the existing economic throttle.
Another discouraging factor encountered in the execution of HEP’s is their exceedingly large gestation period , sometimes extending to ten years which renders the problems of load forecast, inflation and market variation for this period highly difficult. The project conceived as economically viable at time of conceiving may turn out to be economic liability at the time of completion because of large time gap. The environmental issues associated with HEP’s are further discouraging , for it leads to massive demographic and topographic changes in addition to inventing dozens of environmental concerns . These are the issues associated with HEP’s that has shifted the interest from large scale hydro electric projects (HEP’s) to small hydel projects (SHEP’s). “Big projects with large reservoirs have become progressively more controversial in view of the magnitude of environmental issues created by them.
The economic disadvantage of submerging land resources, large gestation period, deforestation, industry resettlement have become too obvious to be ignored. ”, observes, Mishra. These issues are easily circumnavigated by SHP’s because of their small or no reservoirs and minimal impact on environment. “Small hydro projects are also playing a very important role in the modern world for the development of the remote areas which are not main grid connected specially in western Himalayan region of India”, notes N.S.Thakur.
The region of J&K has abundant potential for small hydel power projects. The estimated potential of state in SHP sector has been placed around 1500 MW, of which only a small fraction has been tapped till date. The potential harnessed in small hydel category (upto 25 Mw) is only about 75 Mw. This represents a dismal picture . Again the reasons for this impasse being rooted in official prolongation, lack of dynamic and viable DISCOMS within the state. The challenges imposed by terrain and topography being of no lesser significance, but this technical fault line is furthered by official and NOC issuing agencies.
Given that medium and large HEPS are not going to lose their significance any sooner and states, locally as well as globally will continue their ventures open into large scale HEPS. Having said that the viability and versatility of SHPS is going to make them “selected preferential” in future and they are surely going to put a tough challenge to large HEPS, if pursued aggressively. Jammu and Kashmir may no longer wish to lag behind rest of the country or for that matters rest of the world in harnessing its small hydel potential. But to realise this end it needs to gear up all its departments affiliated directly or indirectly with the field, so that investors and entrepreneurs find this field attractive in terms of state’s proactive attitude towards getting these projects executed and making state to leap forward in fulfilling its growing energy demands.
(Author is engineering graduate, student of comparative studies and a freelancer with The Kashmir Monitor. He can be reached at: [email protected])