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Outdoing China's Three Gorges project

ARUNACHAL'S LIQUID GOLD - I

Anand Sankar  |  New Delhi 

Arunachal Pradesh accounts for one-third of the country's hydro power potential "" the largest in any state "" though less than 1 per cent of this potential has been realised. That will change soon as work begins on some of the largest hydro projects in the country, finds Anand Sankar, who travelled to the region. This is the first of a three-part series.
 
The Three Gorges project across the Yangtze in China may have set a new benchmark for scale of hydroelectric projects but the promise of what is possible from the mighty Brahmaputra river in the north east of the country is far greater. While the Three Gorges is expected to generate a maximum of 22,500 Mw, the upper tributaries of the Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh are projected to generate a minimum of 36,000 Mw when they hum with turbines.
 
Main hydro projects in Arunachal
Name Capacity
(Mw)
Investment
(Rs Cr)
Developer Status
Subansiri Lower 2000 6,285 NHPC Under construction
Dibang Multipurpose
Project
3000 16,425 NHPC Fresh public consultation process
underway
Middle Siang 1000 NA Reliance Power Fresh assessments being done
Tawang I and II 1500 6,568 NHPC Assessments nearing completion
Source: NHPC
 
The actual hydro potential of the state is much higher, at above 50,000 Mw. The region will soon boast the largest power project in the country "" the 2,000-Mw This is 500 Mw more than the current largest hydro project "" in Himachal Pradesh.
 
"Work goes on here 24 hours a day and all round the year," says the chief engineer at the Subansiri Lower site, where over 5,000 people are working to get the project commissioned by the deadline of 2012.
 
Also in the pipeline is an even bigger project "" the Rs 16,425-crore "" which is expected to generate 3,000 Mw when it is done.
 
Both these projects are being developed by the government-owned mini-ratna company National Hydro Power Corporation or NHPC.
 
In addition, there are over 100 smaller run-of-the-river projects proposed by private and public sector companies in the state "" which account for a third of the country's overall hydro power potential of 150,000 Mw. These are awaiting a nod from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), which approves all projects of 25 Mw and above.
 
Companies from as far away as the Netherlands and Brazil are queuing up for a slice of the Arunachal hydro pie.
 
While construction at Subansiri lower is on at full swing, supportive infrastructure is coming up in the state and in the region in anticipation of demand. For instance, two new bridges across the river Brahmaputra are being built at Bogabil and Sadiya in Assam to make it easier to ferry material for the projects. "India's gold rush to the east" is however not without its share of critics.
 
Activists and watchdogs allege that in a rush to begin construction, basic regulatory checks and balances are being given a go-by. For instance, construction of Subansiri Lower has started without the mandatory Memoranda of Understanding with the state governments of Arunachal and Assam.
 
In the case of Dibang, the foundation stone was laid by the Prime Minister in Itanagar in January this year even before the public consultation process was complete.
 
As far as the private sector developers are concerned "" they are expected to bag 30 per cent of the capacities coming up in the state according to PricewaterhouseCoopers "" many of them are trying their hand at hydro power for the first time.
 
Prayas Energy Group (PEG), a policy watchdog from Pune, has questioned allocating such a large percentage of projects to the private sector, specifically to developers who have never had experience in hydro projects.
 
In addition, precious little study on water flow patterns and rainfall has been done on the Brahmaputra river system. Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) said there has been "overestimation in water flow data" to justify hydro projects across the country.
 
In fact, according to Dr Dulal Goswami from Guwahati University, who has studied the Brahmaputra basin extensively, there is no reliable data on water flow.
 
CEA, which wants to increase the share of hydro power in the overall energy mix, has however defended its approval process. "Can we wait for 15 years to generate data?" asks CEA Member Secretary (Hydro), Gurdial Singh.

 

First Published: Tue, June 03 2008. 00:00 IST
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