Kulekhani Lets Kathmandu Down
Load shedding was supposed to have ended in Kathmandu with the commissioning in 1982 of the Kulekhani Hydroelectric Project, Nepal´s biggest and costliest power plant. This February, load shedding was back in the capital. Kulekhani had failed to deliver.
The problem was with Kulekhani´s reservoir, whose capacity was down from an average of 86 million cubic metres to 65 million cu.m. There was not enough water to turn the turbines continuously, so the Nepal Electricity Authority reactivated its giant diesel generators in Kathmandu and started rationing electricity, which is expected to continue until the monsoon rains refill Kulekhani´s reservoir.
Many criticisms of Kulekhani had been brushed aside in the rush to award dam-building contracts. After lying dormant for a decade, those criticisms were dredged up once again. People asked why a monsoon fed river with a relatively small catchment area had been chosen when snow fed perennial rivers were everywhere. Others questioned the need for an expensive reservoir when "run-off schemes" could be built in practically any other river. A seismic fault was said to run right through Kulekhani´s site, and other dam proposals were said to have been more economical. Besides, Kulekhani was a "peaking" station whereas the country needed a power station that provided steady base demand.
Kulekhani´s woes brought sharp criticism of hydropower planning in
Nepal, which prompted former Minister for Water Resources, D.P. Adhikari to admit on television that "there could have been defective planning". That´s for sure, but it is little consolation for Kathmandu´s inconvenienced residents, already smarting under hardships brought about by the economic blockade. After all, there is precious little to show for the US120 million (1982 prices) that went downstream at KulekhaniA