Electric utility plans separate substation in Nuwakot for transmission line with China
Until last year, the Nepal Electricity Authority had planned a 400 kV substation at Ratmate in Nuwakot district for the Nepal-China cross-border transmission line project. But a few months ago, the electric utility decided to establish a separate substation in the Trishuli Bazaar, near the site of the Trishuli hydroelectric project, for the same purpose of cross-border connectivity.
The decision is said to be due to the fact that the previous substation, which was to be built at Ratmate, was the subject of a grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a grant of US $ 500 million for the transmission project of electricity (ETP) and the transport project.
The transmission project has five components: a segment starting from the northeast of Kathmandu at Lapsephedi, extending to the west of Kathmandu near Ratmate; a second segment from Ratmate to the industrial city of Hetauda located south of Kathmandu; a third segment from Ratmate to Damauli in the west; a fourth segment from Damauli to Butwal in the southwest; and a fifth segment from Butwal to the Indian border which is part of the cross-border transmission line.
The US grant, however, has sparked controversy in Nepal, with a powerful lobby group, made up of influential politicians and independent individuals, opposing it, claiming it is linked to the Indo-Pacific strategy, which aims to counterbalance China.
The MCC grant has yet to be ratified by the Nepalese Parliament, a prerequisite for its implementation.
“One of the main reasons we have chosen to set up a separate substation for the Nepal-China cross-border transmission line is that there is no clarity yet on the implementation of the MCC account. given the controversy that surrounds it, “said Dirghayu Kumar Shrestha, head of transmission. to the Nepal Electricity Authority, the public electricity company. “A separate substation would mean that the Nepal-China cross-border transmission line would not necessarily be connected to the Ratmate substation that will be built under the MCC, helping to avoid any geopolitical risk. “
The Galchhi-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung transmission line is the first such connectivity project between Nepal and China. The two countries had formed a technical team in 2018 to accelerate the construction of the transmission line.
The Nepal Electricity Authority plans to install the substation on the land of the Trishuli hydroelectric project, a utility company.
According to officials, the study and delineation of the proposed Trishuli substation area has been completed and detailed design work is underway.
“We are currently testing the soil in the area where the substation will be installed,” said Shrestha.
However, a separate substation to avoid any geopolitical fallout could result in substantial expense for a new substation, as a substation was already being planned.
Khadga Bahadur Bisht, member-secretary of the Millennium Challenge Account, Nepal, a special purpose body formed to implement MCC, said he was unaware that a geopolitical factor had guided the Nepal Electricity Authority to establish a substation separate to Trishuli for Nepal. China cross-border transmission line.
“I don’t think there is any risk to the Nepal-China cross-border transmission line if the Ratmate substation is used. I think the authority will take care of the two substations. The one built under the MCC will in any case be handed over to the Nepal Electricity Authority.
Ultimately, according to Bisht, the two substations will complement each other.
According to him, the Millennium Challenge Account is preparing to acquire land for the transmission line project and has prepared documents to launch a tender for the construction of the substation and transmission lines.
However, he has already completed the land acquisition process for the Ratmate substation.
Once completed, the transmission line could be extremely useful in Nepal for selling excess power to China. Authority officials said the separate Trishuli substation will provide uninterrupted power supply through the Nepal-China cross-border transmission line.
“This will open up new prospects in terms of the electricity market in Nepal, as the growing demand for electricity will be met by importing from China when needed and exporting the excess energy after a few years in the near future,” the electricity utility said in a statement. its recent 2020-2021 annual report.
According to the report, as of July 2021, the detailed study work of the project is in progress and the final report of phase I (transmission line) and the draft report of phase II (substation) have been prepared.
A new road alignment of the transmission line has been optimized according to the geological information system, which means that the new alignment would be shorter and the construction costs would decrease by Rs1 billion.
“A field investigation is underway,” said Shrestha.
The proposed new route would however cross Langtang National Park and deforestation could be problematic. According to the authority, a load flow analysis on the Nepalese side of the transmission line has been carried out.
The report on the planned power capacity and the energy balance of the integrated power system of Nepal has been sent to the State Grid Corporation of China, Beijing, which is the counterpart of the Nepal Electricity Authority in the construction of the transmission line. A similar report from the Tibet Electric Grid has also been received, which is necessary for the future cross-border power supply, officials said.
As the country aims to increase domestic electricity consumption by improving energy availability, increasing investment through reliable power supply and maximizing government revenue, exporting excess electricity, Authorities must be careful that its plans are affected by geopolitical factors, observers said.
Shankar Sharma, former vice-president of the National Planning Commission, asserts that geopolitical influence on the implementation of development projects cannot be ruled out but that foreign resources must be mobilized according to national priorities.
“The issue of a new substation does not by itself prove that geopolitics has played a more important role in shaping our development priorities,” he said. “We must avoid the influence of foreign countries in determining our priorities.”
The government has kept the construction of transmission projects as high priority due to the risk of wasted electricity as Nepal appears to have surplus energy.
The transmission lines and substations to be constructed under the MCC will also facilitate Nepal’s planned interconnection with India from Butwal to Gorakhpur, India.
But the implementation of projects under the MCC as well as the Nepal-China cross-border transmission line is still a long way to go.
An authority official said the power company will not immediately speed up work on the Trishuli substation because it wants to be sure the cross-border transmission line is advancing on both sides of the border.
The MCC, meanwhile, remains blocked in Parliament. The current dispensation in Kathmandu led by Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepalese Congress, however, is keen to push the MCC through the House.
Kul Man Ghising, who returned to the Nepal Electricity Authority as chief executive earlier this month, replacing Hitendra Man Shakya, said he was unsure why the new substation was planned in Trishuli.
“I have to go through a briefing before I can make a statement on this,” Ghising told the Post.
He said the planned substation could be to connect the several hydroelectric projects along the Trishuli River with the Ratmate substation.
“But I can only say that for sure after I find out about it,” said Ghising, who was appointed chief executive for the second time on August 11 after serving from September 2016 to September 2020. “He was not planning to install a substation in Trishuli when I was running the Nepal Electricity Authority last time.
When asked if geopolitical factors could be the reason for building a separate substation, Ghising said, “I’m not sure of any such thing.”
The Post’s repeated attempts to speak with Shakya, the former general manager of the state-owned power company, went unanswered.