UPPER KARNALI Urgency To The National Debate

<br>-&nbsp;Dr. AB Thapa

March 5, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 05 No.-16 Mar. 02-2012 (Falgun 19,2068)<br>

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.

The  Threat

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. 

National Debate

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.

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