Networking Nepal’s Power Pylons

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Networking Nepal’s Power Pylons

In these times of sustainability, innovation and climate change, the approach to building Greenfield transmission lines demands careful attention to the minutest detail especially in the face of the external funding agency’s strict procedures.
 

--By Hillol Biswas

The expansion of transmission networks is a priority in contemporary power development in Nepal. In line with several planned projects expected in the coming years, the need for drawing up a network of transmission corridors across the country to transmit power from the proposed hydro power plants to village settlements and urban areas appears to have been envisioned to a considerable degree.

For every additional generation of power, expanding the corresponding network becomes an automatic requirement. Obtaining a transmission corridor in a ‘Greenfield’ situation with its stipulated right-of-way is an extremely difficult task globally. The difficulty varies by different degrees depending on the planned voltage and distance, existence of any similar lines near the planned corridor, rules prevalent to the country, its population and habitation, industrialization and the amount of agricultural land and the socio-economic awareness of the population in the vicinity. These factors often lead to stiff resistance when acquiring land for the pylons. 

In these times of sustainability, innovation and climate change, the approach to building Greenfield transmission lines demands careful attention to the minutest detail especially in the face of the external funding agency’s strict procedures. Overall, the approval process for projects is often thorough and is exposed to multi-stage scrutiny.

Whether the funds come from the government, a national or international bank or from a developer, the terms of the financial investor are likely to be firm when it comes to meeting the scheduled completion time of the project.

Erecting transmission lines and associated substations across Nepal’s mountainous terrain is a hugely complex and challenging undertaking. Some of the major factors that have to be dealt with are: the altitude factor; overvoltage and insulation co-ordination; system and lightening protection; electro-mechanical design assumptions; monsoon rains posing land stability issues and valleys spanning long distances. 

Often in remote areas the lines pass through steep rugged hillsides accessible only by rough footpaths and simple tracks. These tracks may become unapproachable for maintenance purposes once they fall into neglect. Furthermore, local inhabitants are quite unprepared to accept a major form of national development that appears to have no tangible impact on their lives. 

There are some areas in Nepal which may be explored while realizing the policy framework for right project implementation. Adopting a pro-active approach while obtaining the right-of-way would likely work in favour of the concerned utility or developer who is responsible for implementing the project.

While obtaining the license, it is a general practice for the developer to carry out a preliminary survey to ‘freeze’ or identify the best route from the feeder to the receiving station. 

Secondly, the selection of the substation site is an integral part of the engineering process. This boils down to a compromise between technical, economic, environmental and administrative factors. The formulation of a working procedure should not only offer enough time to ensure that the correct engineering process is followed but also iron out any grey areas. 

Thirdly, positive information should be disseminated among the local population living in the vicinity of the proposed transmission line by way-officers.

In general, it is not unusual for transmission lines to initially receive less attention than hydro power projects considering the gulf of difference between the two schemes in terms of completion time frame. Hydro power schemes generally look at a five to seven year time frame while power lines and the associated substations about three to four years.

Acquiring the right-of-way for the new transmission line at the right time has a direct impact on overall power generation and network expansion. It is not uncommon that while hydro projects are nearing completion, the power transmitting system is nowhere near completion to pool the power thus leading to possible generation loss. Both the planning and progress monitoring of hydro schemes vis-a-vis line building should be done simultaneously, more so in the background.

One point should be addressed right from the beginning- the generating station, i.e. the pothead yard, is generally considered to be included in the scope of the concerned hydro power project, with the terminating arrangement at the receiving station being another Greenfield substation.

Moreover, it is always more suitable to erect transmission lines in ideal proximity to existing roads for ease of construction. As road connectivity is a vital component for development, it is likely that the construction company will look for roads in good condition in order to travel and transport materials and equipment. 

Finally, the lessons learnt from past projects should be reviewed at the appropriate level while preparing a policy frame-work. As mentioned before, the complexities inherent in any project can be anticipated well in advance. And they should be addressed thoroughly to keep targeted projects on the scheduled track.

 In the context of augmenting transmission networks, considered by many to be of utmost importance, it is imperative that the developer responsible for it approach the stakeholders with adequate preparedness in a pro-active manner. They should be familiar with the ground realities, possible problematic bottlenecks etc. in order to ensure that the project is rightly implemented within the targeted time frame.

Hillol Biswas is a transmissions line expert working with WAPCOS Limited, a govt of India undertaking.

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