The 4180 MW Upper Karnali Storage Hydropower Project, which can be regarded as the world’s one of the most astonishingly attractive mega-project, is the nature’s fabulously wonderful gift to the people our country. Its potential to generate annually 10,000GWh firm peaking energy can accrue per annum about 1,000 million US Dollars gross benefit to our nation if the firm peaking energy is priced at US Cents 10 per unit electricity ( we should understand that the firm peaking energy is priced 2 to 3 higher than the energy for base load). This project operating at a firm head almost two times greater than the 12,800 MW Karnali Chisapani Project, which is highly acclaimed as a project to generate cheap electricity, would be able to generate electricity even at far lower rate - only 2/3 ( two third) of that of the latter.
Soon our government is going to take the final decision to award this project to a foreign company to build it as a simple run-of- river project that would be able to generate annually only about 1,000 GWh firm energy at far higher generation cost irrespective of the fact whether installed capacity of that hydropower would be 300 MW or 900 MW or even higher. As a result of such decision the viability of the 4180 MW Upper Karnali Project would be ended forever because the above described two projects are mutually exclusive of one another.
The prefeasibility study of the Upper Karnali Project was carried out by a team of international consortium of consultants under the supervision of advisors from the world’s energy giant company BECHTEL. The World Bank was directly involved in providing financial as well as technical support. It has been clearly explained in the prefeasibility study report of the Upper Karnali Project with the intention to warn us that the construction of this project would preclude forever the viability of the 4180 MW Upper Karnali project, which can outright be considered as one of the world’s most attractive mega hydropower projects. The chief advisor from the BECHTEL for the Karnali Project Mr. Paul Terrell had even published an article in local journal HIMAL to warn us not to compromise optimum development for the sake of a quick deal, which is obviously directly related to the Upper Karnali Project. As a result, the 300 MW Upper Karnali was not considered for many years as a project to be implemented in near future.
An Enormous Loss
Our country would forfeit the opportunity of accruing 1,000 million US Dollars gross power generation benefits as explained earlier if the run-of- river Upper Karnali Project would be implemented. The annual gross benefit of the Upper Karnali Storage Project would be about three times greater than the gross benefit to accrue from the entire production of paddy in the whole Nepal, which was considered to be about 3 million tons in a year some years back , and if calculated at a rate of about US Dollars 125 per ton.
It is quite clear why some foreign companies would like to grab our mega projects that have enormous global significance by exploiting the weakness of our government. Is not there an urgency to the national debate on Upper Karnali since the country’s greatest natural resource is at stake? Equally critical might be the bewilderment of many common Nepal, who would definitely be eager to get answer why our intellectual community, planners, media and most importantly economists are not seen to be even slightly concerned when our country is going to be robbed of its vast natural wealth by greedy foreigners probably in collusion with some of our own compatriots.
Why a Jewel in the Crown?
The Karnali river makes a big loop in its lower reach near a place called Asare. From here the river flows in the south-east direction for about 25 kilometers, after that the river makes a complete reversal in its direction. The river comes back to a point just two kilometers away from its earlier position near Asare. There is a drop of about 150 meters in Karnali river bed elevations between these two positions merely two kilometers away from one another. The narrow mountain separating the two courses of the Karnali flowing in opposite direction can be made to serve as a high dam.
There are good sites to build a high dam at the very beginning of the loop. The dam built on such site will be an addition on top of the above described natural dam. Ultimately we have a unique type of giant dam that will have all the merits of a normal type high dam enabling to generate energy at exceptionally low cost on an enormous scale.
Excerpts from Pre-feasibility Report
The World Bank supported pre-feasibility study has clearly explained that the 4180 MW Upper Karnali Storage Project and the 300 MW Upper Karnali Diversion Project are mutually exclusive. The relevant excerpt from the World Bank supported study report is presented below:
Even when assuming that the KRIA run-of-river project (it indicated the small 300 MW Upper Kqrnali Project) is a sunk cost, it will be seen that a single large power plant (4180 MW) associated with the major storage project is less costly than the combined cost of the smaller plant at the same location (3532 MW) and a second power plant at the foot of the storage dam(348MW) discharging directly into the KRIA run-of-river project head pond. Based on this assessment it appears that that the later development of the major hydro storage project at Site KRI (4180MW Upper Karnali Storage Project) would cause the KRIA run-of-river project to be effectively discontinued. There may be limited opportunity for secondary energy generation during the periods of spillage”
Posterity will not Forgive
It is quite strange that the local people dwelling in far-flung corners and even deprived of good basic education are seen to be aware of the importance of our water resources and are showing their concern about the losses to the nation in case the Upper Karnali diversion project is implemented. They are now protesting against the government’s decision, whereas various parliamentary committees, INGOs, different institutions and individuals claiming to play important role in Nepal’s water resources sector, and also media are not at all been seen troubled. Posterity will never forgive us if our policy making institutions failed to intervene in time to save the 4180 MW Upper Karnali Storage Project which is indeed the JEWEL IN THE CROWN among the world’s most attractive mega hydropower projects.