31 - Sep 06, 2009

Pakistan and China signed a memorandum of understanding to build a mega dam on Indus River at Bunji, Pakistan's northern area near the Pak-China border. Pakistan and China reached an understanding for construction of the enviable hydropower project that has a proposed electricity production capacity of over 7,000 MW during a recent visit of Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari to China. The proposed dam site is located near Gilgit. While a consultant had completed pre-feasibility study of Bunji Hydropower project in March 2005, the project made a part of 'Water Resources and Hydropower Development Vision 2025 back in 2001. As per Wapda's updated status of the project, complete studies are scheduled to be completed by 2010. The economic advantage of the project is inclined towards Pakistan as the project is decided to be based on build, operate, and transfer (BOOT) mechanism and the government would receive amounts for civil and engineering manufacturing works as foreign investment.

According to National Management Consultants' concept paper, in May 2007 when detail studies began, total cost of the Bunji Hydropower project was estimated as $3.826 billion. This included transmission line installation (up to Lahore and Faisalabad) outlay of $840 million, excluding interest during construction of $889.93 million. Government estimated $6.83 billion total cost of Bunji hydropower project. Montreal Engineering Company's study ranked Bunji hydropower project third in terms of economic merit after Basha and Dasu. Dasu is another run-of-river proposed dam on Indus River, 74 km downstream of Diamer Basha. Government of Pakistan had appointed the company to conduct a study on hydropower and storage potentials of the proposed dam.

Under the agreement, Pakistan would contract out China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC) to construct Bunji dam. Three Gorges project (TGP) is world's famous hydropower project because of its unparalleled capacity of hydroelectricity generation and water storage. Although, the water reservoir does not have world's biggest capacity, CTGPC claims that it has reserved flood control capacity to reduce flood level, eradicating devastating impacts of floods on human lives and farmlands. The dam is located on Yangtze River and gives off world's largest volume of electricity from a dam. With around 26 turbine-generator units, Three Gorges Hydropower plant's current installed capacity is 18,200 MW and the capacity would exceed 22,000 MW after prospective addition of six generators. According to a news report, work on installation of more generators is underway. The installed capacity of a generator unit of 700 MW is biggest in the world. At present, electricity is sent to Central China, East China, etc. with the maximum transmission range of 1000 km. TGP is unique in terms of its having handled a challenging job of people relocation and resettlement. It was reported that around 1.13 million people were displaced from the dam site.

That when will the actual construction on Bunji hydropower project start is not clear. Making Bunji a part of vision 2025 indicates slightly the possible date of completion. Certainly, completion depends on start of the work. Government envisaged nine year as a period of construction of the reservoir.

Proposed reservoirs with power generation objective in Pakistan include Diamer-Basha (installed capacity 4,500 MW), Munda Dam (740 MW), Kohala Hydropower Project (1100 MW), Kurram Tangi dam, Keyal Khwar (122 MW), Golen Gol (106 MW), Dasu (4,320 MW), Lower Spat Gah Hydropower Project (567 MW), etc. Period of completion of many proposed hydropower projects ranges from six to eight year. Foreign lenders and financiers agreed to fund some of the projects, most of which are based in northern areas. Daimer-Basha dam is expected to be commissioned by 2019. Electricity demand in Pakistan is estimated to shoot beyond 30,000 MW by 2017 from present 17,000 to 18,000. On December 14, 1994 three gorges project was officially started, after nine year on July 10, 2003 first generator unit started supply to power grid. This Chinese reservoir was not turned into reality in this timeline as its history predated to 1920s when a Chinese author suggested a dam on the river. However, it was constructed in a possible shortest time with tirades of environmentalists on the project location.

Rapid shift to other sources of energy is necessary to meet the burgeoning energy demands in Pakistan, which crossed 50 percent annual growth rate in last 10 years.

Hydro electricity meets only 37 percent of national energy requirement. Gas still holds dominant position in national energy mix, meeting 41 percent of energy requirement, followed by hydropower, oil (19%), coal (0.16%), and nuclear (2.84%), according to WAPDA.

Who disfavours growing energy demands if the energy is an input of economic development? Sadly, per capita availability has not been increased in proportion to increased demand in the country. Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority estimated per capita availability of 0.372 ton of oil equivalent (toe) in Pakistan as against 8 toe in USA. It recorded primary energy use of 60 million tons of oil equivalent in 2006-07.

Harnessing water energy is economically viable, as around 87 percent water flows of rivers in Pakistan remain unutilized owing to lack of water storages. If flows are used completely to run power generators, one can imagine a gigantic hydroelectricity accumulation. That may exceed local demand and may be available for exports. As opposed to Pakistan's 13 percent water storage capacity, India is capable of possessing 35 percent of annual flow on Sutlej-Bias Basin. High dependence on thermal power plants has cost billion of dollars foreign exchange and fast depletion of fossil fuel to Pakistan. Without question, the furnace oil bill and resource's wastrel could have been much lessened had just three or four hydropower projects emerged out of paperwork.