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No economic rationale for Arunachal mega dam, experts tell Union Ministry

A private sector project had said that would involve the clearing of 2.7 lakh trees in “subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rainforests”.

A private sector project had said that would involve the clearing of 2.7 lakh trees in “subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rainforests”.   | Photo Credit: PTI

A proposed mega-dam project in Dibang Valley district of Arunachal Pradesh has no economic rationale, a couple of experts have told the Union Ministry of Power in their submission on June 5.

The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Environment Ministry had on April 23 discussed the 3,097 MW Etalin Hydro Electric, a private sector project that it had earlier said would involve the clearing of 2.7 lakh trees in “subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest and subtropical rainforests”.

Read | Decision on hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh deferred

An FAC sub-committee subsequently said that the project “may be allowed” subject to certain conditions. Resultant protests by green groups made the Environment Ministry put the Etalin ball in the court of the Power Ministry.

Ashwini Chitnis, an independent researcher, and Shripad Dharmadhikary of the Pune-based Manthan Adhyayan Kendra have in their submission recommended to the Power Ministry not to proceed with the Etalin project as it was neither necessary nor financially viable. This followed an independent analysis of the project by them.

“Given the six-year delay in starting the project, is it still relevant from the electricity demand-supply planning point of view,” they asked, pointing out that the tariff of the project was high even in 2014 when the proposal was filed.

“As suggested by the FAC, in the last six years the country’s demand supply situation has indeed changed significantly with a high level of renewable energy-based capacity addition and excess thermal capacity. The proposed project is not mentioned in the latest National Electricity Plan of 2018, which projects the country-level demand and supply situation till 2027,” the duo said.

“Considering this and in the absence of a thorough and scientific demand-supply analysis of the beneficiaries concerned after evaluating all alternatives, the proposed project cannot be considered,” they added, reminding of a large number of hydro-power projects pending environment and forest clearances.

The duo alluded to the Central Electricity Authority’s quarterly report that said hydro-power capacity of 11,975 MW was under construction as of March 2020 but with an average delay of about eight years.

Doubling costs

“The costs of these projects have almost doubled, which in fact is an underestimate, as out of the 11,975 MW the latest revised cost estimates for projects with a capacity of 1,821 MW is not available. Thus, though hydro-power is considered a useful resource for meeting peak demand and managing intermittency of renewable energy sources, excessive costs of new hydropower capacity are rendering it as a non-economical option for these purposes,” they said.

They cited the termination of the high-cost Maheshwar project by the Madhya Pradesh government and the reluctance of the electricity distribution companies in Punjab and Rajasthan to buy the expensive power generated by Teesta III (Sikkim) hydro-power project.

Ms. Chitnis and Mr. Dharmadhikary also advocated the proper utilisation of existing hydropower projects before pushing for new ones. They appended a study by the Forum of Load Despatchers India that says the existing fleet of hydro generation has the potential of providing 4,200 MW of additional peaking support at national level.

Solar, wind power

The duo advised alternative sources of power such as solar and wind that can provide peak support more reliably and with much lesser environmental impacts. “A recent study estimates that the prices of solar photovoltaic system plus battery storing 25% of the energy to be around ₹3.94/kWh in 2020, ₹ 3.32/kWh in 2025 and ₹ 2.83/kWh in 2030,” they said.

The tariff estimated for Etalin in 2013 was ₹ 4.32/kWh, more than the levelised (present value of the total cost of building and operating a power plant over an assumed lifetime) tariff of ₹3.60/kWh calculated by the Solar Energy Corporation of India for the supply of round-the-clock power from a renewable energy source of 400 MW.

“If the delay of six years and a legally-binding estimate for environmental flow is considered, the levelised tariff of the (Etalin) project would be in the range of ₹7-9/kWh. Actual delay in construction and commissioning will significantly add to the already high cost,” the experts said.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2020 9:24:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/no-economic-rationale-for-arunachal-mega-dam-experts-tell-union-ministry/article31776667.ece

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