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Six years on, Middle Bhotekoshi project is only half complete

   December 1, 2019        227        Pralhad Rijal

Kathmandu- Six years and three deadline extensions later, the construction of the Middle Bhotekoshi Hydroelectric Project is barely half finished with its Chinese contractor struggling to achieve a breakthrough on the 7.1-kilometre head tunnel.

Construction work on the 102 megawatt plant in Sindhupalchok began in 2013, and it was expected to start churning out electricity by 2016. But the project missed a succession of completion deadlines due to natural disasters, land compensation issues and delays by the civil and hydro mechanical contractor Guangxi Hydroelectric Construction Bureau.

The latest completion deadline for the run-of-the-river project is November 2020, but officials are not sure if work will be finished by that date too. Madhya Bhotekoshi Jalavidyut Company is developing the scheme.

“Workers still have to dig 1,200 metres of tunnel, and it might take six more months to achieve a breakthrough,” said project chief Sunil Lama. “The contractor must mobilise more workers as we have a good work window during the dry season if it wants to meet the 13-month deadline.”

The Chinese company, hired under an engineering, procurement and construction contract, had stopped work for over six months citing lack of equipment and building materials and funding issues.

Work resumed in May only after project officials warned the contractor that it could be fired. The contractor then replaced its project manager and resumed work at the construction site.

According to Lama, the contractor is yet to bring equipment and hire more workers as per the terms of the procurement contract. Lack of crucial equipment is expected to create a setback leading to further delays.

The project is built with 50 percent debt financing by the Employees Provident Fund, equity investment by Chilime Hydropower Company and public shares.

Due to delays in completing the project, the estimated cost of Rs12 billion has swelled by more than Rs2 billion, and that’s without adding interest payments.

The project will have a minimum contribution to the national grid during the dry season and has reported a higher than average cost per megawatt of Rs137 million, as per 2018 cost reports.

Middle Bhotekoshi has three turbines each generating 34 megawatts. The units have a capacity to churn only 15.43 percent of the annual salable energy of 542.2 gigawatt hours in the dry season.

Poor work execution is also expected to result in further cost overruns.

On the electro mechanical front, work is progressing smoothly with the contractor Andritz Hydro preparing to install equipment in the powerhouse which is yet to assume full shape.

The project will evacuate electricity through a 4-kilometre transmission line from the plant’s switchyard to Barhabise substation. Work on selecting a contractor to erect 13 pylons along the route began in June, and is slated to be completed in 18 months.

The Kathmandu Post