Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bunakha Reservoir - Damming The Wangchu

Well, it seems like it is finally happening! For the past many years I have gone hoarse making noise that the way to go is NOT TO build disastrous projects such as Punasangchu I & II, but to dam the Wangchu river in order that we can harness the excess water during monsoon which otherwise go to waste. It is shameful that a net exporter of electricity that we claim to be, have to import electricity from India during the winter months.

Power generation at Chukha and Tala drop drastically during the winter months - as a result of freezing of the glacial lakes that feed the Wangchu. As a result there is insufficient water to drive the massive turbines, resulting in poor generation. This means our earnings, (if there is any) suffer during the winter months, in addition to forcing us to import power from India.

The solution to this perennial problem should have been simple enough - dam the Wangchu river so that the excess water that go to waste during the monsoons can be harnessed - to augment the fall in water volume during winter months. This will not only solve the problem of falling revenue from these power projects, but it will prevent us from importing power from India.

Building a dam across the Wangchu river is so much cheaper than building a hydro-power plant. And, the construction is faster - therefore, the return on investment is quicker.

Therefore, the PDP government’s recent approval of the Bunakha project is a welcome move.

Unfortunately, my bubble burst when I realized that the reservoir construction is tied to the construction of yet another hydro-power project - the 570MW Wangchu Hydroelectric Project - at the current projected cost of Indian Rupees 29.5 billion. Add to this cost the customary and unfailing cost escalation of 400% - and the final figure will stand at close to Rs. 240.00 billion. I know that His Excellency Economics Minister Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that there would be no cost escalations. At this point, the only thing I can say is that His Excellency is young enough that he will live to see what a poor soothsayer he made.

Will it not be more beneficial if we simply build the reservoir at about Rs. 5-6 billion, rather than go into another potential Punasangchu I disaster? Some one with some accounting basics should do some mathematics to find out which is more beneficial - return from the increased revenue from increased generation from Chukha and Tala during the winter months - as opposed to investment in a Rs. 240.00 billion Wangchu Hydroelectric Project that may see the light of day - some 20 years from now, if the dam does not sink, yet again.

I know, I know -- I am not entirely oblivious to the real truth that surround hydroelectric projects is Bhutan but I can't help it - I am a romantic at heart and lofty ideals and wishful thoughts are intrinsic to my nature :)-

Anyway, if this is a well-intended gift from India, it has to be the parting bonus from Ambassador V P Haran. Now lets see what the new Ambassador His Excellency Gautam H. Bambawale will bring - as his tofa to the Bhutanese people. Given his background, lets pray that his expertise will be another bonus for Bhutan.


  1. Hi
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  2. If we construct the power house just at the base of the dam, like in Kurichhu and the famous Hoover Dam (in US) , I think the construction cost will be minimal compared to the actual cost of the reservoir.

  3. the power generation size of upcoming Wangchu Hydropower is 570 MW

    1. Thanks for pointing out ... the correction has been carried out.

  4. 400% cost escalation leads to Rs. 118 Billion and not Rs. 240 Billion, isn't it?

    Nice post!