When a senior government official was asked for his candid answer on when the load shedding will go away, a senior politician recently got a rude awakening. "Not in our lifetime, sir," the official told at a parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting.
Though ministers and many officials at the Ministry of Energy or Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) continue to claim in public that the power shortage will end after four/five years, it is now an open secret that the power cuts may not end even after those many years.
This week the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) announced the schedule of daily ten hours of load shedding. The number of hours of load shedding in the peak dry season of March/April in 2012 will reach around 18 hours a day.
And this problem is going to persist for a number of years. Here is why.
The first reason is the ballooning demand versus stagnant supply. This year the peak demand is estimated to cross 1050 MW while the supply at dry season will be less than one third of the total installed capacity of nearly 800 MW. While demands rise by 100 MW a year, additional supply did not even come close to 50 MW this year.
Questions may arise that the new power projects in the offing could solve the problem. But, that does not look too convincing.
At present, around 800 MW of new projects are on the floor. If everything goes as planned - and that is a big if in Nepal's current context - they would come into operation in or around 2017.
However, there would be twin trouble lurking in the horizon by then. Number one, the demand will have soared by such an extent that the additional generation will not mean much.
Number two, and this is more important, almost all of the additional 800 MW will be of run of the river variety.
The RoR types of hydropower projects have one big problem. They run in only one-fourth of their capacity during dry season. The 800 MW will effectively mean only 200 MW in winter season when rivers run almost dry in Nepal.
"As such, we will still have load shedding after 2017. While there may be excess power during wet season and we might have to spill energy in rainy season, the load shedding will continue to haunt us in winter," said Balananda Poudel, Secretary at the Ministry of Energy.
"Unless we realise the dream of constructing big reservoir type hydro power projects, our internal production alone will not help us to fully overcome load shedding," he said.
And this dream has remained only 'dream'. Projects like 750 MW West Seti or 600 MW Budhi Gandaki have become necessary to end power cuts. The West Seti would require over 1.3 billion dollars to construct. For Budhi Gandaki, first of all, there needs to be detailed study.
Another solution the officials have been touting is the import of power from India. That, too, appears easier said than done. The other option of thermal plants is way too expensive.
The conclusion being there is no short cut to ending power cuts.