Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Sinking Dam Site of Bhutan's Biggest Hydro Power Project Under Construction

The photo below is of the dam site area of the country's biggest hydro power project - the 1,200MW Punatsangchhu Hydro Power Project-I. The sign board depicted sits bang on top of the area where the project's dam has been under construction for the past close to a decade.

No words can better describe the pathetic story that is the PHPA-I. The picture tells the story. It was taken on 16th February, 2018. The project authorities are admitting that the area is SINKING.

The project authorities have clearly indicated that the dam site is located in an area that is sinking

It is my understanding that the project may never see the light of day. The project's coffer dam has seen flooding for two successive years. If the project authorities failed to do a better job of designing a simple coffer dam, God only knows how many other design flaws are going to surprise us in the coming years.

Take, for instance, the matter concerning the de-silting of the dam. How well have they planned/designed it? How effectively are they going to be able to de-silt the mammoth dam of the few trillion tons of silt and muck that will be deposited annually into the belly of the dam, by the flooding Punatsangchhu? Even if they have a good design, where and how are they going to dump the muck?

If the dam ever gets built, what kind of water body is the 130 Mtrs. high dam going to create? How far will the back flow be? Will the water mass trigger earth quakes? Will it alter weather patterns?

So many questions remain unanswered. And, if that were not enough, we are told that the roof of the underground power house of PHPA-II caved in - burying unspecified number of workers.

In the meantime, solar energy is all set to take over from hydro - as the cleanest and cheapest energy source, in the next 4-5 years. And India is leading the way in the global push for harnessing the power of the sun. Hydro energy will be old hat .... and we will be left gaping at idle turbines worth few hundred billion Ngultrums in loans at 10% interest rate.

I want to know who will cry for us then?


  1. I am also very concerned about PHPA 1 and its schedule, i.e. if the turbines ever spin at all. Driving through the project area, one will notice the inactivity, especially in the dam site. Unless, a miracle happens, I have very little faith that PHPA1 will contribute to our coffers at all. God save us from this project becoming a travesty.

    And the amazing thing is why is everyone so quiet about it. Doesn't the government have a duty to alleviate our fears or have we no control over this project?

    Eventually, this might turn into another blame game between successive governments. But before the project drives the country to bankruptcy, our government needs to be more involved instead of sinking the country a debt trap.

  2. I do not think Hydro power will go out of style. Chinese still building hydro power inside China and in Pakistan. You need to have mixed supply of power, not just one kind. Solar alone is not reliable. That is why Pakistan is building hydro, coal, wind, solar, gas power plants. Solar, wind and hydro power may work well for Bhutan to provide reliable power supply (you may still need coal, but I am not a professional in this area). Solar and wind alone are not very reliable. Bhutan's problem is you got a very bad deal, and the builder is not very responsible and is not working for the good of Bhutan.

    1. Precisely my point .... I am not against hydro-power ... but the manner in which it is done in Bhutan.

  3. O yes, I am fully with your comments. What we need is reliable, affordable but also sustainable energy. Not just one of them , but a healthy mix of all of them availble in Bhutan (or any other place). That PHPA1 is sitting on our neck is more related to making money than bad workmanship. Neglecting serious studies from others, our big neighbours to the south convinced the RGOB that they know it better, changed the dam site (now the big problem place) and promised that the output of the changed dam site will be higher and therefore better for Bhutan. So we are out of such a "win-win situation" and might have to pay for looking for the high fruits.