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Saturday March 02, 2024

Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project connected to national grid

August 08, 2023

ISLAMABAD: At last, after one year and one month, the 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project that became non-operational on July 6, 2022, due to a blockage in the 3.5 km Tail Race Tunnel (TRT) has been connected to the national grid by making one unit of 242.25 MW operational.

Out of the remaining three units, two units would be made functional today (Tuesday) and the fourth unit would be rendered fully operational by tomorrow (Wednesday) --- the last day of the current regime, the top officials of the Water Resources Ministry told The News. Finally “the project would begin to inject cheaper electricity of 969 MW at Rs9.1 per unit into the system by tomorrow (Wednesday).”

The Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project (NJHP) suffered a mammoth loss of Rs41.5 billion (damage of Rs4.5bn in Tail Race Tunnel, business losses of Rs37bn) since July 6, 2022 due to blockage in Tail Race Tunnel which had shut down the power generation. These losses were however covered by insurance. According to official sources, “ the NICL (National Insurance Company Limited) and a group of Chinese companies --- will pay the full cost for the damage incurred on the tail race tunnel. They would also pay the business losses amounting to 90 percent of the total turnover of NJHP in a year. The project generates an annual business of Rs42 billion. The insurance companies have already collected the data and will soon release the first instalment of the total damage. The authorities claimed up to Rs37 billion—90 per cent of business losses of Rs42 billion from the insurance companies. The NICL has a 7 percent share while the group of Chinese companies have a 93 percent share in the insurance amount for the project.”

The officials said that Neelum-Jehlum authorities first tried to test the new equipment on Thursday night (August 3, 2023) by trying to run the first turbine. But it hit snags when it was found out that the outflow gates of the tunnels that are opened in the river could not be opened due to the sand that had piled up against the two outflow gates in the wake of the flood water released by India. “It took the authorities three days to get the gates cleared of the sand and silt.”

“After making the outflow gates functional, in the wee hours of Monday (August 7, 2024), the authorities successfully ran the first unit. It is fully operational and generating 242.25MW while being connected to the national grid.” The management will make two more units operational today (Tuesday) each having the capacity to generate 242.25 MW and add 484.5 MW of hydel generation into the system. Finally tomorrow (Wednesday) the last unit of 242.25 MW will run, enabling all four turbines to generate 969MW of electricity.

Federal Minister for Water Resources Syed Khurshid Shah will visit the site tomorrow (Wednesday). He would be received by Wapda Chairman Lt Gen (retd) Sajjad Ghani. The official said that the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project generates an annual business of Rs42 billion. Depending on water availability, “in three months of the summer season, all four units (turbines) remain operational, three units operate in the other six months, while in the remaining three months of winter, only one unit runs.”

According to the initial report about the tunnel disaster on July 4, 2022, the plant was running at its full capacity (969MW), when an abnormal increase in water leakage was observed in the powerhouse which was controlled through continuous drainage pumps. Upon investigation, high water pressure in the Tail Race Tunnel (TRT) was observed. Accordingly, on July 5, 2022, the project consultants concluded that the abnormal increase in TRT pressure and water leakages/seepage in the powerhouse were due to blockage in TRT. Considering the safety of the power structure and all other equipment/machinery, units were shut down gradually. Resultantly, the powerhouse was shut down on July 06, 2022. Immediately afterwards M/s China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC), the contractor for the construction of civil works, was engaged to carry out remedial works. The firm was immediately mobilized to the site. A contract agreement was signed with it on August 5, 2022, and the work commenced on August 27, 2022.

The Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project was executed at the cost of Rs430 billion and it started functioning in April 2018 under the deep mountains in the AJK where the geology is neither predictable nor readable. Neelum Jhelum is a run-of-the-river Hydropower Project. Prior to the suspension of electricity generation following the damage, the project had provided more than 18.2 billion units of electricity to the national grid.

The project is one of a kind as only 10 percent of the dam portion is on the surface while 90 percent is underground with a waterway system comprising 52 km of tunnels. The project generated electricity for four years at a cost of Rs 9.1 per unit. It diverts Neelum water through tunnels at Nauseri about 41 km upstream of Muzaffarabad and an outfall in Jhelum River near Chatter Kalas in AJK, where the powerhouse is located. The project generates 5.15 billion units annually and has so far contributed 18.2 billion units with annual revenue of Rs42 billion.