In water-scarce Shimla, where energy ministers from across India flew to discuss woes of the power sector, the host state pushed for immediate and long-term reforms in the hydro power sector. Along with other hydro rich states, Himachal Pradesh asked the government to give hydro power the same status, priority and focus as solar power.
“For years, the people of Himachal have given their land and labour for the growth of hydro power in the state. They have not been duly compensated till yet even after giving up their river catchment areas and natural resources. The pain of displacement from their ancestral land still exists. We urge the Central agencies to expedite the compensation,” said Jai Ram Thakur, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh.
Speaking at the bi-annual State Power Ministers’ Conference here, Thakur said the state has a potential of 27,000 Mw of hydro power generation, of which the state government has installed only 653 Mw due to resource restrain.
“Hydro power should get same priority as solar. The sector needs ‘Hydro Purchase Obligation’ for assured off-take of power, medium term sale of hydro power, giving renewable status to hydro is the need of the hour and we urge the Centre to look into these demands,” he said.
All advanced countries are exhausting their hydro capacity. In the past few years, hydro projects have been stalled because of that (protests) and geological challenges. Hydropower then becomes costly: R K Singh, Power minister
At a time when thermal power sector is facing coal shortage and there is rapid increase in the renewable capacity addition, balancing power such as hydro power is needed for maintaining grid balance.
Union power minister R K Singh said the new hydro policy would come soon. Unlike other countries, India does not count hydro power as renewable except for plants below 50 Mw generation capacity. "All advanced countries are exhausting their hydro capacity. In the past few years, hydro projects have been stalled because of that (protests) and geological challenges. The hydro power (delay in commissioning of projects) then becomes costly," Singh said.
The minister also said the new policy would suggest ways to bring down the capital cost of hydro power projects. There is a proposal to stop mandatory free power sale for 10-12 years so that the project developer can recover the cost. The policy also suggests soft loans for longer period of 30 years. This would in turn reduce the power tariff of hydro plants. He said the policy was pending with the Cabinet Secretariat.
Agreeing to the need of balancing power, Singh also acknowledged the “acute shortage of coal. “The demand of power has increased and it shows signs of economic growth. Coal would continue to be a problem for another two to three years as mining and clearances takes time. So, we have asked all the states to import coal if they face any shortage," he said.
Officials of the Uttarakhand government, on the sidelines of the conference, echoed the same sentiment as Himachal, adding that the Centre should reconsider the blanket ban on hydro power projects in the state. “We have recently issued a directive that the effluent level of operating and under construction plants should be below 15 per cent. We are losing revenue of close to Rs 1 billion but it will help the ecology in the long run. We thereby would request the ministry of power, water resources and environment and forests to come out with policy on handling of effluent from hydro power projects,” said the official from the energy department.
The BJP government’s one of the poll promises is ‘Nirmal (clean), Aviral (incessant) Ganga’ and has thereby banned any dam construction on the river. Uttrakhand officials said 4,000 MW is stuck in the state due to the directive and the state is purchased power worth Rs 10 billion this summer. “Large hydro along with irrigation projects leads to development of surrounding area which solar and wind cannot.
Hosting close to 18 state power ministers, 29 senior officials from 26 states, Shimla and Kufri show no visible sign of water distress. Some ministers did not attend the conference owing to disrupted air services because of heavy rains.
In the sweltering month of June coupled with massive tourist traffic, Shimla went into a dry spell with water shortage. Several reasons including sewage treatment mismanagement, lack of water reservoirs and rapid infrastructure development in past five years have caused havoc on the city’s social infra, said an official with the state energy department.
The water meters are mostly missing from domestic areas, while the tariff was fixed by the Municipal Corporation, last year. The orders of rationing are being duly obliged by commercial establishments mostly hotels. “Washing of clothes is strictly prohibited. Do not waste water. We recycle water and adhere to effluent regulations,” – posts across hotels in Shimla.
The state is banking on tourism and hydro power as its major revenue stream. Investment in hydro has been nil in the past decade and with latest water shortage, the state fears losing tourists, too.
Thakur, interestingly also said there should be a scheme by the government for mandatory afforestation in hilly states such as Himachal after any development projects. Having missed even a single mention of water shortage in Shimla in his key note, the CM rather asked the Centre to promote Himachal for ‘hydro tourism’.
State government officials said the situation is in control and they are working on a long term plan. Next summers might give a glimpse on its success.