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Nepal’s largest under-construction hydropower plant mired by sluggish work

   August 11, 2019        391        Prahlad Rijal

Kathmandu- The installation of the first penstock pipe in the lower vertical shaft of the Upper Tamakoshi hydropower plant in Dolakha was supposed to get the project rolling, but works have slowed to a crawl and the project is likely to miss its February deadline in 2020.

A team of European, Indian and Nepalese engineers had finally made a breakthrough in June, after six months of bad luck, to take the largest hydropower plant in Nepal on the brink of completion.

It was hailed as a major achievement as the fitting of pipes in the lower shaft is considered to be the most challenging part of the hydro-mechanical component of the national pride project which began a decade ago.

And the achievement had come after multiple setbacks from machine breakdowns and technical mishaps. The setbacks forced the power utility to revise the project completion deadline of the 456 MW peaking run-of-the-river hydel plant in Dolakha district to February 2020.

The project which had reported 98 percent progress after multiple setbacks is again facing delays owing to poor work execution by the contractor. The contractor has only installed 43 metres of pipe out of the 372 metres needed in two months since installation began.

This means that at the current pace of pipe installation, completion of the much-touted power plant — which energy officials say can single-handedly power 12 cities like Pokhara in a day once it roars into life — in the stipulated time is no more than a pipedream.

With only 21 metres of progress a month, it would take more than 15 months just to finish installing the remaining penstock pipes in the lower vertical shaft alone of the domestically funded scheme that is already mired by heavy cost overruns.

According to Project Director Bigyan Shrestha, although works are not proceeding as expected, the project hopes to expedite the rate of installation after a month or two.

Installation and welding of the first penstock pipe in the lower shaft had taken 365 hours and the time taken to install the fourth pipe out of 74 such pipes had come down to 128 hours a month ago.

And even if works proceed 24 hours a day at the rate of 128 hours for fitting one pipe, it would still take 8576 hours which translates to nearly a year just to install the remaining 67 pipes at the lower shaft.

“The contractors are trying to pick up the pace but the work rate has slowed. We hope to make up for the lost time in the upcoming months,” said Shrestha.

The Upper Tamakoshi Hydroelectric Project is of high economic importance to Nepal as it will not only make Nepal an energy surplus country but also cut the import of electricity from India, saving billions. As per the power utility’s preliminary annual statistics, the country paid over Rs 22 billion for imported electricity in the last fiscal year.

And in line with the instructions of Energy Ministry, Managing Director of the Nepal Electricity Authority, Kulman Ghising has time and again visited the project site and directed the contractors — Andritz Hydro of Austria and Texmaco of India — to carry out works in three shifts to complete the work within the stipulated time.

A month ago, the power utility — the implementing agency of the scheme, had complained of poor work execution by the Indian contractor as it has failed to deliver results in the allotted time, in a series of such complaints over the years.

“The Indian contractor has never abided by the project timeline and it has a poor management team and human resource at the site,” said Ghising.

A year ago, after the Indian contractor Texmaco, overseeing the hydro-mechanical works admitted that installation of the massive pipes weighing 27 tonnes each was beyond its scope, the electricity authority had roped in Austrian Company Andritz Hydro to execute the task.

However, the Austrian contractor led by site Manager of Andritz Hydro, Franco Lontani faced difficulties in executing the tasking owing to a crane failure.

The Upper Tamakoshi project which was incepted in 2007 and entered the construction phase in 2012 has encountered massive cost overruns. The project’s price tag has swelled to Rs49 billion, excluding interest on loans, from the initial cost estimate of Rs35 billion.

Interest payments on long-term loans alone have jumped from Rs6.7 billion in 2016 to Rs14.42 billion in two years. The annual interest rate has been set at 11 percent. As of date, the total project cost including interest on loans has been estimated at Rs73 billion.

While the powerhouse and dam of the project are ready to be commissioned, officials say the project is witnessing losses amounting to Rs40 million in interest expenses and power sales per day amid the delay in completion of penstock installation.

The Kathmandu Post