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Missing the big picture

Apart from the famous mathra and yathra, Bumthang is known for frequent power blackouts.  Just recently, the dzongkhag was left without power for almost 20 hours.

The spiritual heartland of the country, and one of the most visited places by tourists, Bumthang is a popular dzongkhag with its vast flatlands providing immense potential for development.  The Achilles heel is the irregular supply of electricity, especially in winter, when the dzongkhag endures temperatures below freezing point for a few months.

A lot has improved since the dzongkhag stopped depending entirely on the Chumey mini hydel, after it got linked to the Kurichu grid through the Yurumu substation.  There was a permanent solution, had the radial system, or the back up they planned, gone through.

But the project is now shelved, after a few landowners refused to let the transmission line pass through their land.  This is a huge setback for the residents of Jakar town and other gewogs in the dzongkhag.  Had the planned works got through, power reliability would improve by about 98 percent.  It takes years to plan and many more for development works to start.  In considering the interests of a few landowners, the dzongkhag has missed a golden opportunity for a reliable power supply.

Bhutan Power corporation beat a hasty retreat.   With landowners refusing to let the transmission line pass through their land, the corporation has almost wound up the project.  But BPC shouldn’t be blamed.  They have a mandate to supply electricity to all by December last year.  If they feel people are not cooperating, they will move to other areas that need electricity.  As it is, the planned project in Bumthang is for back up services.

What we cannot understand is the dzongkhag and local government officials not being able to convince the few landowners for the greater good of the dzongkhag.  Land is a thorny issue.  It is difficult to part with the little they have.  Villagers will not understand the importance of projects that benefit a bigger group.  It is here that local leaders come in.

For the larger interest, people around the country had contributed or pooled land, making way for development activities.  For instance, in towns, both big and small, people contribute land that could actually fetch them millions of ngultrums.  But in the interest of larger good, they give it up.  While some are compensated, other alternatives are also explored.

Supplying electricity in Bhutan is expensive, given our rugged terrain and the scattered nature of our settlements.  In some cases, contractors surrender their work because it is not profitable.  Realigning the transmission will cost money and time.  They have missed a chance.

However, all hope is not lost.  There is still time to convince the landowners, should the government agree to fund the back up system.  We hope a good lesson is learnt.

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One comment

  1. This is one common emotional issue to deal with involving strong public sentiments. Even with a realignment of the supply line mentioned here, the total distance of the line is not exceeding 20 kilometers. But when we are talking about the kind of potential the place has for development, is a 33 kV line serving the long term requirement? When it comes to higher cost of acquiring the path for right of way in transmission in extreme weather conditions, there are probably a lot more planning to be made. Overhead against underground cables can be one topic for debate depending on the capital investment to be made. Considering the environment conditions and scarcity of land, DC transmission over AC transmission is another debatable topic planning for 25 years and beyond. But even feasibility numbers and project financing has its own complications that can make all involved in planning feel a bit stupid a few decades down the line.

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