Second thoughts on hydropower

November 9 | Kuensel
Editorial

Given that the mega hydropower projects under construction have become synonym for delays, cost escalation and increased debt burden, the latest updates on the hydropower developments in the country comes as a relief.

In the latest development in the hydropower sector, the two governments, Bhutan and India, have agreed to the modalities of constructing the Sunkosh hydroelectric project. It will be a massive project. Sunkosh is now confirmed as an inter-governmental project.

The two Punatsangchhu projects has caused doubts and even instilled fear that as a landlocked country, depending too much on a single export commodity, electricity, is risking its future without diversifying the economy base.

A concrete solution is being explored on the sliding slopes at Punatsangchhu that has delayed the project by years. A way forward will be known within two months.

Punatsangchhu II will see light by the end of 2021. This is a concrete timeline set well aware of the uncertainties. A solution is also being seriously explored to expidite the Kholongchhu project.

All these indicate some positivity. And this is crucial today because more and more people are becoming sceptical of our dependence on hydropower.

What we need to remember is that hydropower has been the main thrust of the economic cooperation between Bhutan and India. We may be challenged by geographical surprises, but the cooperation in building large environmentally friendly projects have brought great benefit to both countries and promises to bring much more.

The call was on diversification, the warning was on the risks associated with putting all eggs in one basket. Tourism was identified as one sector to reduce the dependence on hydropower. From the recent issues related to tourism, the risks are no different from investing all in hydropower.

Hydropower is Bhutan’s potential. We have identified many projects. We have the natural resources. Some have their feasibility done. We put the brakes on because we didn’t know how to manage them. In other words, we bit more than what we could chew.

The past mistakes should have taught us a good lesson. It is said that learning from mistakes is the best lesson. Those who oversee hydropower development are convinced that we do not have the luxury of having too many eggs and one basket. The message is we make the best use of what we have.

With increasing concerns of climate change, global warming and associated problems, renewal or clean energy is still considered the best bet. The difference is how we harness them. The last decade for many Bhutanese was a learning period in how we handled the mega hydropower projects. If we repeat them, we are fools!

All those involved in planning, deciding and implementing hydropower projects should have learnt from the blunders we made.

It is said that we are wiser after the event. If that is the case, we would be wiser in planning, deciding and implementing future projects. Not taking risk is not being decisive.

Hydropower projects are not imposed on us. We plan it. We have equal say in deciding the details. If we have learnt from our mistakes, try to be firm and not be the “nice Bhutanese” in making decisions, there will be not much to regret.

The fear should not be only about not receiving funds. We should be firm and able to convince donors what is right and what is not. Leadership here plays a crucial role.

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