Energy, Forest ministries argue about eco issues

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Feb 8, 2016-

The government is close to announcing an Energy Emergency to remove procedural hurdles in the way of the development of hydropower and transmission lines, but the Energy and Forest ministries still do not see eye to eye about certain issues.

Speaking at an interaction on Sunday organised by the Energy Development Council, officials of the two ministries expressed divergent views on whether the forest administration was a hurdle to hydropower development. They, however, agreed that a balance should be sought in the development of hydropower and conservation of forests.

Energy Secretary Suman Sharma said that the Forest Ministry should not forbid the felling of trees to erect transmission lines because their impact on the environment would be temporary. “Once the power lines have been constructed, trees grow there once again,” he said. “It is very complicated to construct power lines on private land.”

Hydropower developers have also identified forest clearance as being one of the major hindrances to the development of hydropower projects. Recently India’s Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam, the developer of the 900 MW Arun III Hydropower Project, complained that it was ordered to follow a parliamentary committee order under which the developer has to hand over an equivalent amount of private land surrounding the forest, according to Investment Board Nepal. The Natural Resources Committee under the previous parliament had also directed the government to create a legal provision barring the use of forest land for purposes other than forestry. 

Joint Secretary Krishna Acharya of the Forest Ministry said that there wouldn’t be any forests left in the country in a short period if they are allowed to be used for any purpose demanded. “As hydropower is the country’s priority, we have made arrangements for a separate department to simplify tree cutting and acquisition of forest land for the hydropower sector,” he added. 

Acharya defended his ministry’s actions and said that they could not permit forest land to be used and trees to be cut for some hydropower and road projects as they had come to the ministry without conducting an environment impact assessment (EIA). 

“Many of them come to the ministry after receiving the contract,” he added. He urged the developers and other ministries to involve the Forest Ministry from the beginning so that problems regarding forest clearance and acquisition of forest land could be solved early on. 

Lawmaker and chairman of the parliamentary Agriculture and Water Resources Committee Gagan Thapa expressed unhappiness at government agencies for continuing to obstruct the development of energy projects. 

Energy Emergency policy ready

 Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi said that his ministry had concluded formulating the policy on the planned Energy Emergency, and that it would “possibly” be declared by the next Cabinet meeting.

“We will brief the Prime Minister about the plan and try to get it endorsed by the next Cabinet meeting,” said Rayamajhi at an interaction on Sunday. As per the ministry’s plan, 10-year power purchase agreements (PPA) will be signed with developers in US dollar terms. 

While there are concerns about the large payments that the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the only power purchaser in the country, has to make to developers, Rayamajhi said that it was necessary to sign PPAs in US dollar terms to attract foreign investment, particularly in storage-type projects. Expediting the construction of new hydropower projects and the reconstruction of plants damaged by the earthquake, developing at least one storage-type project and upgrading cross- border transmission lines will be major focus of the planned Energy Emergency.

The government has also planned to announce producing 10,000 MW of power in the next 10 years. The Energy Emergency, which is expected to last for three to five years, will be declared under the theme of Energy Crisis Elimination Decade.

Published: 08-02-2016 09:36

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