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April 16, 2019

Kohala hydel consumers to pay price for increased environmental outflows


April 16, 2019

LAHORE: Consumers, already suffering from inflationary shocks, will have to bear the financial burden for paying capacity charges to Kohala Hydropower Project (KHP) contractor owing to lesser electricity generation because of increased environmental outflows.

In order to pacify local communities, a committee constituted by Federal government has recommended increasing outflows in the lean period from Kohala Hydropower Project by 36 percent -from 30 cumecs (cubic metre per second) to 41 cumecs that will help in addressing environment concerns in the Muzaffarabad valley and surrounding areas.

However, the consequent lesser availability of water for power generation will mean the payment of capacity charges to project operator and its burden will ultimately be borne by hapless consumers.

The work on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor- (CPEC) funded Kohala Hydropower Project has been in jeopardy as the Chinese contractor has been demobilised for the past several months following controversy over downstream environmental flows.

The 1,124MW (megawatt) Kohala Hydropower Project, being built on Jhelum River in Azad Kashmir under CPEC, has been awarded to Kohala Hydropower Company Ltd (KHCL), which is a subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC).

The protest by the local residents delayed financial closure of the project, and it may also delay the crucial land acquisition process. Resultantly, it is feared that the project’s cost could increase besides a delay its execution.

However, Irfan Ali, Federal Secretary Power Division, Ministry of Energy, was hopeful about resolution of the problem. Ali said all stakeholders had agreed over the mechanism to address environmental concerns including increase in outflows from the Kohala projects and installation of water treatment plant.

To a question, secretary power division admitted that capacity charges would have to be paid to contractors for not producing electricity because of the mandatory environmental flows. Work on Kohala Hydropower Project was halted following a protest, staged by a section of locals, pertaining to the diversion of river Jhelum.

The protestors claimed that this diversion of river water had created environmental issues, which were causing serious issues to human lives. The waste and sewerage discharged into the river have led to more pollution due to shortage of flows.

According to Mushtaq Minhas, Information Minister, Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), a committee constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan, following raising the issue, has recommended for enhancement of environmental flows at Saran from 30 cumecs to above 41 cumecs during the lean period. Besides, KHCL will install ‘sewage treatment plants’ in all major towns downstream Saran —a point from where water will be diverted into the tunnel.

Moreover, he said five water bodies would also be constructed downstream in cascade to secure aesthetic view of river Jhelum and to develop tourism opportunities in AJK. Similarly, establishment of water supply facilities to the project corridor community, ‘mother and child care centers’, and provision of additional facilities in education institutes in project area, will also be the responsibility of the proponent as part of CSR, the AJK information minister said.

He said these recommendations had been processed for the approval of Prime Minister and would hopefully be finalised in next few days. Minhas also expressed the hope that protesters would soon end their demonstration and work on Kohala project would start soon.

A senior official of Private Power Infrastructure Board (PPIB) said there should be arrangements by the AJK government for treatment of water that was being drained into the river. Such treatment of sewage or municipal wastewater is considered the responsibility of the concerned government, the official added.

On increasing outflows from lake of project, the official said such change in greater outflows would not alter economics of the hydropower projects significantly. He also was upbeat about the initiation of work on project site soon.

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