A tale of obstruction in power transmission line development

The Annapurna Express

The Annapurna Express

A tale of obstruction in power transmission line development

Hardly any transmission line project has been constructed without obstruction either from the locals or the other government entities such as forest authorities. Prolonged delay in verdicts by the court has also resulted in cost and time overruns in many transmission projects

The Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower, Nepal’s largest hydroelectric project, came into commercial operation in August 2021.

But the power of the 456MW Hydroelectric project has not been supplied to Kathmandu valley, the largest power consumption center of the country, as the planned Tamakoshi–Kathmandu 220/400 kV Transmission Line Project is yet to be completed.

The preparations for the development of the transmission line project started in 2012 and its construction commenced in 2016. In 2020, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) terminated the contract with a Chinese joint venture of Guangxi Transmission and Substation Construction Company and Shenzhen Clou Electronics citing the slow pace of work on the project which was supposed to be completed by May 2019.

Through a bidding process, the project development contract was handed over to an Indian company Larsen and Toubro Limited, India. “The contractor has completed most of the works but the project remains incomplete as local residents at Bojhani area of Shankarapur Municipality-3, Kathmandu, have been obstructing construction of a substation there”, said Tara Prasad Pradhan, Deputy Managing Director of NEA.

“All the project area residents whose lands have been acquired by the project have already received compensation willingly. But a group of locals has been protesting against the construction of a power substation there which was planned long ago,” he added.

In the last couple of days, the locals have been protesting against the planned substation arguing that NEA acquired their lands without consultations. Surya Bahadur Tamang, Chairperson of Ward-3, Shankarapur, himself has been leading the protest.

The government has mobilized police to protect the acquired lands and the equipment of the contractor. “We don’t know who instigated the protests against the construction of the substation. Maybe there are political actors who have promised to shift the location of the substation somewhere else,” said Pradhan. “It is a very important transmission line to bring power from the Upper Tamakoshi project to Kathmandu. We are now sending power from Upper Tamakoshi to Dhalkebar though the original plan was to bring the power directly to Kathmandu,” said Pradhan.

NEA has prepared a master plan for developing transmission infrastructure for Kathmandu valley considering the electricity demand as late as 2050. As per the plan, there will be a power demand of 3,100 MW by 2050 but the current infrastructure is only able to sustain the power demand of 500 MW.

According to Pradhan, no single transmission line has been connected to the power distribution center of the capital valley with a capacity of 400kV or more till now. The Tamakoshi-Kathmandu Transmission Line will be the only power line with a 400kV capacity that can carry more power than existing ones.

He said that the Indian contractor now just needs to complete the construction of the proposed substation at Bojhani and four transmission towers at the Lapsiphedi area of Kathmandu. “Unfortunately, the construction of all these very important power transmission infrastructures has been halted due to protests from the locals of the project areas,” he said.

However, the Tamakoshi-Kathmandu Transmission Line is not the only transmission line project that is facing obstruction during construction. NEA officials say hardly any transmission line project has been constructed without obstruction either from the locals or the other government entities such as forest authorities. Prolonged delay in verdicts by the court has also resulted in cost and time overruns in many transmission projects.

For example, the under-construction 220kV Bharatpur-Bardaghat Transmission Line Project has not been completed as the locals of Dumikas, Nawalparasi have been obstructing the construction of two transmission towers in the area. NEA said it has already installed 244 of the 246 towers of the 74-km transmission line, but due to obstruction to the installation of two towers, it has not been able to transmit power at 220kv capacity.

The existing 132kv Bharatpur-Bardaghat transmission line can only carry a maximum of 80MW of power and it has been difficult for the NEA to send more power without a higher capacity power line.

The power utility says developing high-capacity power lines across Nepal is vital to ensuring a reliable power supply across the country and to ensure a reliable cross-border power trade.

NEA officials say that locals have been obstructing the installation of the two towers with their unreasonable demands. As per compensation rules, NEA provides compensation of 20 percent of the value of the land that falls within 15 meters on either side of a transmission line. But locals of Dumkibas are demanding compensation for the land falling within 50 meters on either side.

The project’s work was stalled for over a year after the Supreme Court in April 2021 issued an interim order to stop work on the two last towers. But on June 27 last year, the court vacated the interim order paving the way for the project to resume the erection of the transmission towers. “Despite the court order, the locals have been obstructing the transmission projects and we have not been able to work on the project implementation,” said an NEA official.

The 400 kV Hetauda-Dhalkebar-Inaruwa transmission project also faced prolonged delay. On January 30, 2019, Sarita Giri, a former minister, filed a petition at the Supreme Court demanding a change in the route of the transmission line in the Padariya area of Lahan Municipality and the court issued an interim order accordingly.

It took more than three years for the Supreme Court to take a decision on the matter as the court in early June last year vacated the interim order opening the door for continuing the construction work on the project. The NEA official said that it is preparing to resume work on the project.

The 220kV Bharatpur-Bardaghat transmission line project and 400kV Hetauda-Dhalkebar-Inaruwa are part of the World Bank-funded Nepal-India Electricity Transmission and Trade Project.

The World Bank discontinued its funding in November 2021 for the two transmission lines, citing continued delay despite repeated deadline extensions. Before it withdrew funding, the multilateral lender had extended the deadline several times. Obstructions from locals and legal cases against the project led to continued delays.

The 132kV double-circuit Solu Corridor Transmission Line is another example of how transmission projects face massive hurdles in Nepal. It came into operation only in December 2021 after years of delays. Obstruction of locals of Katari, Udayapur had delayed construction works of the project. Likewise, the 132kV Singati-Lamosangu Transmission Line also faced hurdles from locals but has now been completed in June 2021 after 11 years.

NEA officials accept the low compensation prices of lands as a reason behind the discontent of residents of the project affected areas. “As the compensation is not fully provided for the land that falls under the transmission line, land owners don’t want to lose their lands to the transmission projects,” said the NEA official. “ We don’t provide full compensation for such lands as we don’t acquire them. But the value of lands over which the transmission lines pass through dips as they are not accepted as collateral in the banks.”