Lo and behold! Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has just announced an eight-hour decrease in weekly power cuts. Apparently, water levels in Kulekhani and Mid-Marshyangdi projects are up, which means the power turbines, temporarily halted for repairs around a month ago, are revving again. Another reason for this generous gift announced a couple of days shy of the Valentine’s Day, NEA crows, is that it has been able to ´significantly´ check rampant electricity theft.
All this still leaves Nepalis with all of 80 hours of weekly cuts. Many of them have simply adapted themselves to functioning in the dark. Families seem to be talking more since the idiot box has now had its much deserved rest. Students have trained their eyes to adapt to the dim light of inverter-powered CFLs. They might as well: the country´s power woes are unlikely to be solved for a long-long time.
Currently, of the peak demand of 980 MW, NEA has been able to pump out a paltry 475 MW, less than half the demand. No big power projects are scheduled to come online in the next few years. The plans to import diesel plants, which had been on the table since Jhalanath Khanal´s days at the top, have been safely shelved after protests over costs. Importing electricity from our southern neighbor is certainly an option.
But India, which itself needs enormous quantities of power to underpin its rollicking economic growth, is unlikely to spare much for its poor neighbor. Not the least because such a move would invite a huge backlash from the 300 million-odd Indians who are still forced to live without any electricity. Nepal is also short in coal, responsible for 55 percent of total generated capacity in India.
Meantime, Nepali industries have seen their productivity plummet by up to 50 percent due to erratic electricity supply. It does not help that they now also face a crippling diesel crunch. Power is important to fuel the economic growth of any economy. Doubly so in a country struggling to persuade hesitant industries and foreign investors spooked by militant unionism and uncertainties of doing business in Nepal. It is as yet unclear how Nepal will be able to tide over the shortage. Successive governments have been woefully shortsighted—craving short-term populism to long-term power solutions.
Even when the government has taken an initiative to harness hydropower, various political interests have placed hurdles in their way. Politicians at the top have been all too willing to cite peace and constitution as their major objective. But they will do well to remember that unless there is a robust power sector, Nepal’s political gains are unlikely to be consolidated by a strong economy, a perfect recipe for future conflict