Enlightened Shangri La

Arid Ladakh desert frozen at -20 degree Celsius is enjoying an uninterrupted power supply round the clock, a historic first in a power-deficit state. But it has more to do with a policy crisis as NHPC’s twin projects are generating more than Ladakh can consume, RS Gull reports

After decades of state government's efforts to develop micro projects to manage local needs, New Delhi interviened and managed most of the problem in a single stroke -- Photo:Bilal Bahadur
After decades of state government’s efforts to develop micro-projects to manage local needs, New Delhi intervened and managed most of the problem in a single stroke — Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Finally, Ladakh has started scripting a new chapter, a history of sorts. Many Kashmiris who would be “trapped” in Leh or Kargil during winter while on “punishment posting” might be surprised that the arid desert’s twin towns – Kargil and Leh, are having better energy supplies without noisy, smoky and highly expensive diesel generators.

“If winter is an indication, then 2013 summer is going to be greatly different in Leh,” a Delhi newspaper reported. “It would be less polluted and calmer as basic facilities in the hospitality sector will improve phenomenally.”

Additional deputy commissioner Kargil, Hasan Khan, said the people living in the main town, Drass, Barchay, Thrumboo, Sanko and Trispon are getting uninterrupted power for more than 12 hours. “We have put off all the major diesel generators in Kargil, Thasgam, Mulbek and I believe half of the costs of energy will be saved this winter,” Khan said.

“The situation will improve. We have to have five sub-stations and only two are in operation. Three more will come up and the generation will also improve,” adds Hasan Mohammad, former executive engineer. He insists that 2013 summer is going to be the most comfortable summer ever because they have a lot of electricity available.

Leh is colder and comparatively cosy. “Earlier, we would get five to six hours power supply daily,” superintending engineer, Tsewang Paljor, said. “Now it is 24 hours in Leh town, parts of Khaltsy and even parts of Numa and it will get better as water level improves.”

The change is history and it is the outcome of NHPC’s maiden intervention in the Indus basin. After decades of state government’s effort to develop micro-projects to manage local needs, New Delhi intervened and managed most of the problem in a single stroke. It is 45-MW Nimmo-Bazgo (NB) in Leh and 44-MW Chutak in Kargil. While sanctioning the two projects in the middle of 2006, New Delhi offered a subordinate debt of around Rs 270 crore to NB at 4 per cent interest and also to Chutak on same terms so that this grey area on the Sino-Indian LoAC is addressed on priority.

NB is one of the India's high altitude stations located at over 12000ft above sea level -- Photo:Bilal Bahadur
NB is one of India’s high altitude stations located at over 12000ft above sea level — Photo:Bilal Bahadur

NB has started changing Leh. Located 70 km from the main town in remote Alchi hamlet, this first Indus basin run of the river project is fed by waters diverted from the sluggishly moving Indus through a 57m high concrete gravity dam through a tunnel. Supposed to generate 239 million units in a 90 per cent dependable year, the project would eventually cost the NHPC Rs 978.44 crore. NB has three units of 15 MW each. NHPC has already moved the CERC seeking Rs 1.65 per unit from J&K government on basis of the latter’s PPA that it has signed with NHPC. While getting 12 per cent of the generation as royalty and an additional one per cent for local area development, the J&K government has otherwise agreed that it will purchase the entire generation.

Set up by Hindustan Construction Corporation (HCC), NB is one of India’s high altitude stations located at over 12000 ft above sea level. Work on the project started after HCC bagged the contract and fighting hostile weather, limited work season, tensions of logistics and fairly huge cost overruns, NB’s dam was completed on June 17, 2012, and a month later, the river impounding of the project started. The test runs for the first unit began in November 2012 and was commissioned on December 14, 2012. It is formally being commissioned in April 2013.

For Kargil, it is Chutak. Fed by the roaring Suru river, the barrage of the project is located near Sarzhe village and the powerhouse in Chutak village. The three-unit project with 11 MW capacity each, the project is designed to generate 212.93 million units in a 90 per cent dependable year. Though supposed to cost Rs 621.26 crore, the cost and time overruns led to its completion at Rs 914.14 crore. The mechanical spinning of all its turbines was completed last summer. All the three units were declared commissioned in November 2012 in quick succession – on November 8, 11 and 22.

J&K government has signed PPA with NHPC for Chutak on October 26, 2005. As per the power ministry’s allocations, J&K has 72 per cent of the total generation allocated to it in addition to the 12 per cent royalty and one per cent local area development. That means only 15 per cent of the energy that the project would generate is unallocated which is barely 6.60 MW. NHPC has already moved the CERC and has bagged an award to recover Rs 1.65/Kwh from J&K’s Power Development Department – something which was contested by the state.

In the last three months of 2012, Kargil was energy abundant. Since the water level has dropped and literally only one of the four units is running at reduced load, the energy is “slightly less”. This is a major historic shift because Ladakh has been living in energy misery for most of its history. The situation was more pathetic than Kashmir had. Over the years, the state government with its limited resources has been making efforts to set up micro power projects which would run in isolation and manage local requirements. J&K has eight small power projects in Leh, Kargil, Zanskar and Nubra with a cumulative installed capacity of more than 22 MW. But these projects suffer the serious problem of siltation in summers and freezing in winters. Right now, there are only two small projects operational in the two districts with the output of less than one fourth.

Over the years, this situation led to the policy intervention in which the PDD would offer energy in the morning and evening for limited hours. There are 59 diesel generators installed in Leh with an installed capacity of 19537 KVA and 58 sites in Kargil with 16425 KVA. This would make nearly 30 MW of thermal energy that would be supplied for not more than seven hours a day which would cost Rs 25 to Rs 50 for the generation of every single unit, varying for the place to place. These diesel generators would add to the noise of the place and pollution to the otherwise oxygen deplete atmosphere that would create scenes in Leh when tourists would move with face masks in the main town. More than 150 thousand tourists visited Leh in 2012 and one-third of them were foreigners.

The two sub-stations at Kargil and Gramthang have a total transformation capacity of 18.9 MVA, which constitutes 50 percent of the total transformation capacity of 37.8 --Photo: Bilal Bahadur
The two sub-stations at Kargil and Gramthang have a total transformation capacity of 18.9 MVA, which constitutes 50 per cent of the total transformation capacity of 37.8 –Photo: Bilal Bahadur

But the story is getting interesting now. The twin projects were started with a clear idea in mind that a transmission line will be laid to connect the arid desert with the Northern Grid. This was supposed to create an artery so that energy is supplied and evacuated if and when required. The ambitious 220 KV Srinagar-Leh Power Transmission Line with underground cabling for 8.50 km covering the Zoji La was proposed and submitted to the Planning Commission. In 2005, it would cost Rs 634 crore for 375 km line with four 220/33 KV sub-stations at Drass, Kargil, Khaltsi and Leh.

When the idea was discussed, Ladakh was offered two options – either to have the two power projects or the transmission line. After prolonged discussion, the region opted for the power stations and the work started. Once that happened, the transmission line was delayed. It created a situation that now power stations are in generation stage but there is no line for evacuation. Additionally, this has forced isolation on the twin projects. Both these projects would function on a standalone basis, literally operating as per the load that the local habitations offer.

This situation has created a sort of crisis. On Chutak, the NHPC has gone to the CERC saying the lack of evacuation system has created a problem for it. Creation of the system beyond the switchyard, according to NHPC, was the responsibility of the beneficiary state. The system was to have five sub-stations at Gramthang, Kargil, Mulbek, Sankoo and Khangral with a cumulative capacity of 37.8 MVA. Two of them have actually come up. NHPC says J&K state had intimated it in 2004-05 that it will offer 50 MW load but in actual terms, it has failed to provide even 10 MW load as committed to NHPC on July 23, 2011.

The state government reacted with its own arguments. It says NHPC was aware that the 220 kV Srinagar-Leh transmission and 220/33 kV sub-stations would not be available during the 11th and 12th plan and hence the generating station cannot be connected to the regional/state grid. Interestingly, it is the NHPC that is implementing the RGGVY in Ladakh and the job of creating the infrastructure that it is seeking now is its primary failure as project implementer.

“The petitioner (read NHPC) on account of its own failures is neither able to demonstrate its peaking capability corresponding to its installed capacity through trial runs nor is able to implement a scheduling process as per IEGC,” J&K’s PDD petition said. “Therefore, the generating station or its units cannot be declared under commercial operation in the present situation and the respondent is not liable for any charge.” But the CERC did not buy the argument. It has awarded a decree to the NHPC that it will recover Rs 1.65/KWh from the PDD strictly as per the consumption.

The larger issue still remains. CERC has put things on record: “The petitioner (NHPC) also apprehends that even after commissioning of full transformation capacity of all the five sub-stations, the respondent (J&K PDD) may not be able to provide a continuous full load of even one machine.”

“Even if all four units are declared under commercial operation, it is possible that only one unit could be run on partial load due to non-availability of local load and non-availability of regional and/ or state grid,” the NHPC has said in the petition. The two substations at Kargil and Gramthang have a total transformation capacity of 18.9 MVA, which constitutes 50 per cent of the total transformation capacity of 37.8 MVA under the scope of RGGVY. It offers a load of only 4 MW against the availability of 33 MW. NHPC says the onus of failure to absorb the power from the generating station is solely with the J&K’s PDD.

That means Kargil will have many times more power this summer than it would require. Same is true with Leh. Right now, it is getting round the clock supply to more than 60,000 people in Leh town, Alchi, Saspol, Nimoo, parts of Khaltsy and Numa as only one unit of the Nimoo-Bazgo is running. Once it operates all three units, it will be an energy surplus. Right now, the Army is not getting any of the supplies because it has not its systems in place. By next summer, the Army will have its own substations and it can consume anything between 15 to 20 MW. That means lot of power will not be used there as well. So, where this surplus energy will go?


  1. Generating more than Ladakh can consume ? Only one unit can be operational in alchi in winters , this mean around 10 MW only ( not the theoretical 15 MW) which is consumed just by Leh forget other villages and the moment army starts drawing power Leh is again power deficient


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