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Bhutan’s Hydropower Potential Increases to 37,000MW

   February 24, 2020        405        Ugyen Penjor

Thimpu– Bhutan’s hydropower potential and availability is now around 37 gigawatt (GW) or 37,000 megawatt (MW) from 155 identified sites, including the existing power plants.

This is according to the Power System Master Plan 2040, a detailed master plan, which revised the PSMP-2004. The report identifies 90 sites having an installed capacity about 33GW or 33,000MW as techno-economically feasible.

The 2008 Bhutan Sustainable Hydropower Development policy estimated the overall hydropower potential of the country at 30,000MW with production capability of about 120,000GWs.

The master plan, which revised the 2004 plan, excludes the six existing power plants, 13 earmarked projects and 20 sites with an installed capacity of about 25MW. It also excludes three project sites requiring resettlements and another 44 sites whose components like dams, reservoir, waterway or powerhouse with an installed capacity of 8.6GW falling in the protected areas.

The master plan revised with assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency, has identified 69 potential sites with a capacity to generate 14GW of electricity for further screening.

The master plan was revised to reassess the overall hydropower potential including techno-economic potential of the country after having detailed hydrological information and data based on the newly established hydrological network and advanced planning technologies.

It was also to ensure judicious identification and selection of the promising projects after doing multi criteria analysis (MCA) and to engage stakeholders in identifying, selecting and developing projects for optimum utilisation of river basin potentials based on market opportunities and the country’s absorptive capacities.

Presenting a synopsis of the master plan in the national Assembly on Monday, economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma said that 18 potential sites were shortlisted to be harnessed by 2050.

The development plans for the 18 shortlisted sites (see table) are scheduled from 2031 to 2050 at and estimated construction cost of nu 608 billion (B).  “The 18 sites were prioritised considering technical, economic, social, environmental impact and the state of development of the sites,” Lyonpo said.

Out of the 18 priority projects, 14 are identified as run-of-river schemes to ensure minimum negative social and environmental impact and bring cumulative benefits to local communities through development or improvement of infrastructure like access to education, health, roads and economic opportunities.

The master plan recommends developing three projects, the 550MW Dorokha site, Pinsa (153MW) and the 414MW Chamkharchhu- II site between 2030 and 2035. It recommends carrying out feasibility studies for these three sites at the earliest for early development.

Members of the National Assembly welcomed and thanked the economic affair minister for sharing the master plan, but many questioned the minister on the priority projects while some cautioned on the risks associated with building hydropower projects.

Drametse-Ngatshang member, Ugyen Wangdi said that while there was a proposed deadline for the 18 projects identified, there is no mention of when the projects that are already finalised or feasibility study done like the Dorjilung, Sunkosh, Wangchhu, Bunagu and Kuri Gongri projects would be started. “Are we going to build these projects together with the new identified projects or in the next 10 years until 2030 since the new projects are beginning from 2030,” he said.

Drawing the attention of the House to the problems of sinking land in Kingarabten alleged to have caused by the Mangdechhu project, Dragteng-Langthel’s member Gyem Dorji cautioned the Assembly about the risks associated with building mega projects. The member insisted on the importance of DPR (detailed project report).

Members of the opposition questioned the minister on the progress of the planned projects. The Dewathang-Gomdar MP, Ugyen Dorji said that even after spending seven years on the DPR for Nyera Amari I and II there is no progress. “When will the DPR be ready?” he said.

Pangbang MP Dorji Wangdi questioned the modalities of the planned projects. He said it was not clear if the projects would be build on inter- Governmental (IG) model or on a joint venture (JV) model. He asked the minister what the government was doing to ensure energy self-sufficiency in winter. “Export is important, but what are the plans on the firm power (power generating capacity at all times)?”

The Khengkhar-Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho said that the Kuri Gongri planned project should receive the highest priority emphasising on regional balanced development. He said that five projects identified in the revised master plan, Dorokha, Pinsa, Jongthang and Chamkharchhu II has the capacity of 2,184MW while Kuri Gongri alone has 2,640MW.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the revised master plan transcends party politics and will be subjected to change depending on several indicators like technical, geographical or economical.

He informed the Assembly that the Sustainable Hydropower Development Policy 2008 is being revised and that it will be sent to the Gross National Happiness at the earliest.

“Whether we agree to IG, JV or public private partnership (PPP) or even JV or IG at state owned enterprises level will be known soon,” he said. “The policy will be finalised in two to three months.”

On the firm power, Lyonpo said that the government is prioritising Sunkosh because it is the only reservoir project with a capacity of generating 40MW during lean season. “Most of our projects are run-of–river and we are considering storage or pond scheme for the Kuri-Gongri project,” he said.

World Energy 

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