Feeding on Tiger Hill

The second coldest inhabited place is provided electricity from a mini hydel project that runs for six months in a year. Shams Irfan reports.

Harsh weather conditions allow Marpochoo to function for only six months.
Harsh weather conditions allow Marpochoo to function for only six months.

With famous Tiger Hill in the background, Marpochoo Mini Hydel Project is the only source of energy in Drass. Also known as ‘The Gateway to Ladakh’ the temperatures here plummet to minus 48 degrees Celsius making it the second coldest inhabited place on earth outside Siberia.

The project is located a kilometre ahead of Drass town and accessible through a narrow link road which passes through one of the greenest parts of the region.

Completed at a cost of 357.03 lac rupees Marpochoo was commissioned for generation in 2006, it has two Francis (horizontal) turbines of 250 KW (0.75 MW) each. The water source for Marpochoo is Sando Nallah, a tributary of Drass River, which fed from glaciers near Tiger hill. Marpochoo has a capacity of 270 lac units per year but the output is only 9 lac units per year due to variations in water discharge from Sando Nallah and obsolete machinery.

Harsh weather conditions allow Marpochoo to function for only six months (April to September), while total discharge required to run all three units is 32.20 cumecs. With a view to provide electricity to Drass the micro hydel Scheme was conceived by PDD in 1986-87. At conceptionstage the requirement was pegged at 400 KW only but later the demand in all 17 villages in Drass Block was revised to 750 KW. So increased capacity meant complete revision of the plan including its cost.

The project was allotted in December 1992 to M/s Raja on a turn-key basis. However the actual work could only start in 1993 beginning with infrastructure works. The consultant engaged for the perpetration of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) furnished the first of the drawings in 1994. In 1995 the site of the power house was changed. However the construction of the power house could only be started in 1996 after getting necessary geological clearances. Considering the weather conditions and availability of construction material in the area it was felt that the work could not be completed by a single agency only.

Thus in 1997 the work was bifurcated and M/s M & Co took the charge of construction of power house complex. But the work was suspended because of the Kargil War in 1999. After the war was over the project got further stalled due to shortage of funds. The work was only resumed in 2003 after PDC approached Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) for a loan which was sanctioned in 2002. Marpochoo is not connected with grid. During winters the diesel generators are the main source of energy in the area.

SERC has put its cost at Rs 13.25 crore and its tariff at Rs 5.05 per unit. The project generated 9.78 lakh units in 2010-11 and 7.26 lakh units in 2011-12. The project that was supposed to go into generation by 1990 was finally completed in 2006. Though initial cost was Rs 1.63 crore, it consumed Rs 12.84 crore by March 2010, according to CAG.

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