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Koshi corridor power line project faces new setback, likely to miss deadline by 10 months

- PRAHLAD RIJAL, Kathmandu

May 19, 2019-

Just a month after works resumed following a six-month hiatus, the Koshi corridor transmission line project has again faced a setback as the project has been barred from extracting construction materials from local rivers for the construction of substations.

The national pride project, being built to evacuate around 550 MW of energy in the initial phase from under construction hydel plants in the eastern region, is facing a shortage of granular materials after local forest authorities forbade extraction of sand and gravel from Sabha River.

“The project contractor has been asked to haul sand and gravel from Itahari to build substations at Basantapur, Baneshwar and Tumlingtar,” said project chief Rajan Dhakal. “We are reeling under severe crunch of construction materials and hauling sand and gravel from Itahari to Tumlingtar will increase cost overruns and is also logistically challenging.”

According to Dhakal, government officials have asked the project to shift sand and gravel crushers from Sabha River banks elsewhere but the crusher contractor is reluctant to do so. “With the onset of monsoon, forest officials will also enforce an extraction prohibition period starting from May to September and it will push the project completion deadline by at least 10 months,” he said.

The Nepal Electricity Authority, the project executing agency, is likely to face penalties, if the transmission line does not go live within the stipulated deadline, as it has already signed power purchase agreements for 516 MW of electricity with 28 independent hydropower projects in the region.

In absence of a transmission system connecting Bhojpur, Shankhuwasabha, Tehrathum and Taplejung, the power produced by the private plants including 51 MW Mewa Khola, 15 MW Maya Khola, which is nearing completion, will go to waste.

“Just a month ago we resolved a row over route of power lines with Dharan metropolis and now we are being denied from extracting construction materials,” said managing director Kulman Ghising of Nepal Electricity Authority. “If the project is delayed, both private producers and NEA will have to bear loses running into the millions.” As per the purchase terms, the state-owned power utility is obliged to cover 45 percent of the operational losses of the private plants, if it fails to build the transmission system within one and a half years, said Ghising.

According to electricity authority officials, both private hydropower projects and government owned projects in the region are experiencing shortage of construction materials following the ban.

“Despite multiple rounds of talks facilitated by the district coordination committee, there has been no headway and forest officials who are guided by vested interests are adamant on not letting us extract materials from Sabha River citing environmental issues,” a project official said after requesting not to be named. “We cannot extract sand and gravel from Arun River as the water level is high and it is too costly to haul materials from Itahari.” The government had approved the preliminary environmental impact assessment of the project and issued a permission letter allowing the electricity authority to develop the 220 kV transmission lines and supporting infrastructures and transmit electricity from Koshi River basin in line with provisions of the Electricity Act 1992 in January, 2015.

 

Hailed as a life-line project in the eastern region, the project funded through a line of credit worth $250 million from Export-Import Bank of India, is being built to evacuate power from hydel plants located at Arun River, Tamor River and their tributaries that carry massive generation potential over 2000 MW.

Indian contractor Larsen and Turbo has been building three substations at Basantapur, Baneshwar and Tumlingtar under the second component of the corridor project at a cost of $25.29 million. The electricity authority began works on the substation in June 2016 and has set a completion deadline of February 2020.

Earlier, the construction of towers along the 105 km Inaruwa-Tumlingtar transmission route was obstructed by Dharan Metropolis citing that the alignment of towers would hurt tourism and paragliding prospects in the area.

Works on the first component worth $37.5 million, the 220 kV double circuit line from Inaruwa to Tumlingtar, halted for six months and had resumed after Chief Minister Sherdhan Rai of Province 1 facilitated an agreement between local representatives, Dharan metropolis and the electricity authority in April.

Published: 19-05-2019 08:25

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