Hydropower: untapped potential

India has an estimated usable hydropower potential of 84,000 MW at 60 per cent load factor (which translates into 1,48,700 MW including 145,320 MW above 25 MW)

In addition, pumped storage sites with an aggregate capacity of 94,000 MW have been identified. These estimates are based on the assessment carried out in the 1980s, which might have undergone some changes now as a result of the hydro-meteorological changes that have been happening due to climate change phenomena and other reasons. Only about 25 per cent of the currently estimated capacity has been developed so far and 66 per cent is yet to be taken up.

Slow development of hydropower is attributable to a host of reasons such as capital-intensive nature I of projects, environmental and social issues, land acquisition and law and order problems, geological I surprises, inadequacies in hydrological data, lack of infrastructural facilities in the remote sites, inter-state issue, delays in obtaining statutory clearances, tariff and regulatory issues, etc.

Private sector participation has been low due to higher risk perceptions. Progress in implementation has been slow in the 12th Plan also. Published data shows that only about 12 per cent of the target has been achieved so far.

The growth of hydropower has been lagging behind over the years. It is also seen that in recent years, social and environmental issues are becoming increasingly contentious leading to delays in getting clearances and in implementation.

In the meantime the focus shifted to other forms of generation with relatively lower gestation periods and risk perception. Suggestions for accelerated development of hydropower and boosting the share are: (a) expedite reassessment of the hydropower resources of the country using state-of-art survey and investigation tools, which could greatly help minimise hydrological risks of new projects and help improve quality of DPRs; (b) formulate a basin-wise development plan taking care to see that upstream and downstream plants are implemented in a coordinated manner; (c) streamline and speed up environmental clearances, which would help minimise time and cost over runs of projects; (d) ensure public engagement in planning R&R programmes and also adequate transparency and accountability in implementation; (d) encourage private participation; (e) promote trade in hydropower with Bhutan and Nepal and (f) take up R&M and up-gradation of existing plants, where viable. The inherent advantages of hydropower (especially storage and pumped storage plants) in grid operation, especially in the context of large scale increase in wind and solar power should also be duly taken note of in long term power planning exercises.

Issues generally relate to agency which should be responsible for funding and implementation. The concerned SERC should issue necessary regulations in this regard. A pro-active approach on the part of the transmission/distribution utility could also go a long way in this regard.

This is a major concern for hydropower developers. In case of environmental clearance two issues stand out. One relates to computation of compensation, especially where there is mixed use of land by government and communities and other to limitation of conservation efforts for fragile eco systems and associated species. We need transparent policies to address these. The local government should take the responsibility for timely development of infrastructure.

As regards opposition from locals, it can be contained to a large extent if we take proactive steps at an early stage. A very systematic and comprehensive approach is needed to design the R&R plan. Rehabilitation of PAF should be seen essentially as a humane problem and has to be dealt with understanding and sensitivity. The developers should be pro-active in understanding and acting on the needs of local people - this can go a long way in winning over the local people.

An effective communication strategy needs emphasis in this regard. Better transparency and accountability are also required in timely disbursal of the compensation packages to the targeted people.

A mandatory sustainability assessment protocol for all projects on lines similar to the one developed by the International Hydropower Association should be put in place, which would help in the right design of projects and also in dispelling much of the misgivings of the public.

Any effort to incentivise hydropower is welcome but how far HPO will help in this is debatable. Our experience with Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) does not instill much optimism.

This is likely to create a dampening of interest on the part of developers of hydropower. However, we should note that while issuing their order the Supreme Court had directed the Ministry of Environments and Forests to set up an expert committee to study the environmental degradation by power projects in the state. Though unaware of final findings of this committee hope that we would be able to find out some ways to harness hydropower without adversely impacting the eco system. Incidentally NTPC has recently moved the Supreme Court seeking approval to go ahead with construction of its 171 MW project on the grounds that the project is not located in an eco-sensitive zone and the cost is escalating with the passage of time.

30,000 MW IN 13TH AND 62,000 MW IN 14TH FIVE YEAR PLAN
Based on past experience these targets seem ambitious. But if we can address the concerns in a pragmatic way and improve the governance structure we should see a high degree of success.

Small hydro power (SHP) can play a key role in village electrification and also in enhancing the share of renewable energy in India's clean energy portfolio. As per available data more than 70 per cent of the identified potential of SHP in India is yet to be explored, hence there lies a long road ahead for the sector to accomplish. On the policy front, the state governments should work on streamlining processes involved in awarding the projects besides distinctly laying out clearance methodology, as done in case of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. In addition, for village electrification which is one of the mainstays for the application of SHP in isolated areas, the state governments require to speed-up the process of disbursement of subsidy to poor users.