Untapped hydropower potential of Punjab

By Engr Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui

As the nation faces the worse power crisis of recent times, the government is exploring possibilities of creating additional capacity for generating electricity optimally, on an emergent basis.

Punjab’s irrigation system can be effectively utilised to generate, in first phase, about 400 MW cheap electricity that could be made available within a short span of time, provided harnessing of this potential of renewable energy is prioritised..The Punjab Power Development Board was created as an arm of the Irrigation Department (now known as Irrigation and Power Department) for the promotion of hydropower generation in the province. As many as 591 potential sites at different river falls, canals and barrages, with medium and low head and high discharge, having a total capacity of more than 5,000 MW have been identified. Pre-feasibility studies for 35 raw-site projects of cumulative 350 MW capacity have been conducted. In addition, detailed feasibility reports of another 12 projects of about 50 MW total capacity are available since long. Yet, nothing physical has been done towards development of these small hydroelectric power projects .

In fact, there were no sincere and concerted efforts made by the successive governments to promote construction of these power projects, either in public or in private sector. During the period 1995-1997 the provincial government had issued letter of interest (LOIs) to the private sector for setting up power stations at 22 identified sites. Not a single project could materialise. For many years the government did not re-launch the programme. Sometime in September 2005 the government formulated a revised power policy. This was however formally approved and announced only on July 28, 2006, as Punjab Power Generation Policy 2006. Two years thereon, the implementation of policy did not make any progress

The scope of power policy covers development of projects of capacity up to 50 MW, through public sector, private sector or under public-private sector partnership. In view of lack of interest exhibited by the private sector in the past to develop these projects, it was decided by the government to set up a few projects in public sector to serve as model or pilot projects. Ten project sites with confirmed technical feasibility and economic viability were earmarked for the purpose.

The Irrigation and Power Department launched, in September 2006, the first project namely Khokhra hydropower project on Upper Jhelum Canal, for which detailed feasibility study was conducted in August 2005. International tenders for the 3.20-MW project, to be located near Mandi Bahauddin at a total cost of Rs260 million, were invited on turnkey basis. But no decision was taken on the bids received. After a lapse of almost a year, tenders were re-issued, this time only for turbines and other electromechanical equipment. Again, decision could not be made and tender has been scrapped.

Besides the projects to be developed by the government itself, there are four projects of cumulative capacity of 13 MW ready for take-off. These are 4.80 MW and 1.99 MW both on Lower Bari Doab Canal (Sahiwal district), 4.24 MW on Tail Mainline Upper Chenab Canal (Bambanwala-Sialkot) and 1.90 MW on Upper Gogera Branch (Mannawala- Sheikhupura). Bankable feasibility studies have been prepared for these projects. Private sector has to be invited to develop these solicited projects on build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis, project allocation being on minimum levelised tariff received through competitive bidding, in accordance with the provisions of the policy.

However, pre-qualification for developing only one project has so far been invited by the Punjab Power Development Board. Pre-qualification documents from interested parties were received by October 31, 2007 for a 4.80 MW project on Lower Bari Doab Canal in district Sahiwal. There has been no further progress reported since then. According to project schedule specified in the policy, bids were to be invited from selected parties within 100 days after submission of pre-qualification documents.

In addition, there are 35 sites identified as potential projects to develop hydropower stations of 160 MW cumulative capacity, on various canals located in Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Sargodha, DG Khan and Bahawalpur zones. These are classified as raw sites as detailed feasibility studies have not yet been undertaken and are to be conducted by the respective sponsors. There are another 10 projects, of cumulative capacity of 125 MW, proposed on various barrages on Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi and Sutlej rivers.

Seven private companies were allowed to develop projects at 11 raw sites. For the purpose as many LOIs were issued to them during October-December 2007, requiring the investors to prepare detailed feasibility study for the respective project within 12 months. Till to-date there is no progress made by any of the sponsors to commence requisite investigations for preparation of feasibility report. It is obvious that preparation of the feasibility reports, and consequently construction of these projects, will be delayed inordinately, if at all the projects do materialise eventually.

The governments as well as sponsors are indifferent to the opportunity cost the nation has to pay heavily in case of long delays in implementation of these projects. It was in 1992 that Wapda assessed the potential of power generation on the Punjab canals and barrages and, subsequently, completed feasibility studies at various sites. During the year 2003-04, Wapda had received and evaluated bids from local contractors for construction and supply of machinery for a 3.30 MW Pakpattan hydropower project. Then the subject was transferred to the provincial government, putting spanner in the whole process.


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