Will India’s looming power crisis affect the country’s power import during the lean season?

With the possibility of the 1020 MW Tala Hydropower Plant having to undergo major maintenance this winter, the limited power generation during the lean season will hit hard the country. Tala contributes more than 45 per cent of the total power during the dry season. While we import power from India in such a situation, India is on the brink of an unprecedented power crisis today. 

As India’s economy picked up after the second wave of the COVID pandemic, demand for power rose sharply. Power consumption in the last two months alone jumped by almost 17 % compared to the same period in 2019. At the same time, global coal prices increased by 40 %. In a country where 70 % of the electricity is generated using coal, coal stocks are running critically low.

Bhutan exports its surplus energy to India. About 80 % of the total power generated is surplus during the peak seasons. At the same time, Bhutan’s annual domestic consumption growth is recorded at five per cent.

The hydropower plants across the country generate over 410 MW during the dry season. Of which, 190 MW is from Tala hydropower.  Close to 400 MW is used for domestic consumption. However, there have been instances where Bhutan had to import small quantities of energy for a short duration during the lean season in the past years.

According to the Director of the Department of Hydropower and Power Systems, Karma P Dorji, this is being done to meet the country’s technical requirements.

“Whenever there is a shutdown, whenever there is annual maintenance to spin the machine, we do require some inputs or power from Indian sides.”

With a major rectification work planned for the Tala hydropower plant for a minimum of three months this winter, Bhutan is set to lose 190 MW from Tala.

“Of the 400 MW, 70 to 75 per cent is actually being used by the big industries. So in that sense, household consumption will not be affected even if we shut down Tala. But then of course if we don’t import, then obviously we will face a situation whereby we may have to shut down some of these industries from an operation. And that’s exactly what has been happening around the world,” he added.

The department, however, said this situation is not an option that they can afford.

“Obviously we have requested the government of India because there is a provision in the bilateral agreement or the 2006 umbrella agreement, which says should there be any supply constraints, the government of India will actually support us in meeting those requirements,” he said.

As per the sustainable hydropower development policy, it states that in the event of a power deficit scenario, the supply of electricity will be prioritized first to essential public institutions and services, individual households, general commercial establishments and then comes industries.

Samten Dolkar

Edited by Sonam

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