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SJVN: Pushing boundaries to expand capacity so that industry can thrive, Raghunath Prasad Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd

10 Sep 2012

At a time when the country is grappling with power shortage, and there are concerns on coal and gas supplies, the picture is far from rosy for hydropower producers either. Water levels across 81 reservoirs are down to 16 per cent. The situation could turn grim if the rain God does not show mercy. Despite the tough times, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd has shown the grit by delivering more than the targets year after year. During an interaction with InfralinePlus’ Priyanka Singh, Chairman and Managing Director SJVN Raghunath Prasad Singh, the force behind the growth, detailed his vision of taking the company to the next level. 

With ever increasing power requirement of Indian industry there would always be pressure on power producers irrespective of the route they follow. Kindly put into perspective the current installed and generation capacities of the company? 

Current installed capacity of SJVN Limited is 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri Hydro Power Station in Himachal Pradesh, which is India’s largest hydro power station and generation achieved during the financial year 2011-12 was 7610 MUs against design energy of 6612 MU and MoU target of 6900 MU. SJVN has been continuously surpassing the established bench marks for generation through its 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri Hydro Power Station year after year. 

How do you plan to expand the capacity going forward? Kindly share the short term goals of your company. In the times to come do we see diversification for power generation? 

SJVN as a company started its journey as a single project organisation wherein the mandate was to construct and operate country’s largest 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri HEP. After its successful completion, SJVN went into expansion mode and was entrusted to develop 412 MW Rampur HEP. In the above context, the short term plan in immediate terms is to commission 412 MW Rampur HEP in Himachal Pradesh by September 2013 which is under advanced stage of construction.

Apart from above, SJVN has been targeted to commence the construction works of 66 MW Dhaulasidh HEP in Himachal Pradesh, 60 MW Naitwar Mori HEP and 252 MW Devsari HEP in Uttarakhand by the end of financial year 2012-13, for which environment clearance is awaited.

SJVN is also enriching its project portfolio by diversifying into wind, solar and thermal power sectors.  The construction works of 50 MW wind power project is targeted to commence from Jan 2013. 

Are you also planning to foray in other countries? Can you throw light on some of these projects that are in the pipeline outside India? 

SJVN is spreading its wings in neighbouring countries, Nepal and Bhutan too. In Nepal, SJVN has bagged Arun-III HEP through the process of international competitive bidding. DPR of the project as prepared by the SJVN has been submitted to CEA for Techno Economic Appraisal / clearance and construction will be taken up after signing of Project Implementation agreement with the Nepal Government. In Bhutan, SJVN has prepared Detailed Project Reports (DPR) for Wangchu HEP 570 MW and Kholongchu HEP (600 MW). DPRs of these projects are currently under examination by CEA for Techno Economic Appraisal / clearance. SJVN is in the process of forming a joint venture with Druk Green Power Corporation of Bhutan for implementation of these projects. 

Your presence, in terms of power generation, has so far been limited to the two states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Are you also looking at other states to tap resources? 

As you all are aware that the hydro power projects are installed in the states, where availability and gradient of flowing water is found. SJVN is currently operating in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur and is looking forward for taking up new power projects in Arunachal Pradesh, where bulk of the underdeveloped hydro potential (57,000 MW) lies.

What is your plan on the investment front? Has the investment been lined up? 

SJVN has accrued around Rs. 2500 crore so far by operating the 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri Hydro Power Station. SJVN propose to fund the projects by way of investing 30 percent of the project cost from its internal resources as equity and the balance 70 percent by raising debts from the various financial institutions/ banks, multilateral agencies etc. SJVN has planned to invest Rs. 10,400 crore during the 12th plan (2012-17), out of which Rs. 3120 crore shall be invested as equity from internal resources and the balance Rs. 7280 crore shall be raised as loans.

Please take us through the challenges that companies in this domain face while installing hydro capacities. What are the requirements in terms of infrastructure development for setting up hydro projects?

As we all are aware that hydro projects are usually constructed in hilly terrain where water and gradient that is head is available. The hydro projects developed so far are at the locations where infrastructure facilities such as proper road connectivity and construction power were available. The untapped hydro potential is presently in the extremely remote locations and lacks the basic infrastructure facilities like roads, construction power, communications etc. These are difficult mountaineous areas which lack basic infrastructure facilities such as road network capable of handling the movement of heavy plant and machinery, availability of uninterrupted construction power and communication facilities. This results into additional incurrence of cost and time in developing the basic infrastructural facilities before the construction activities of the hydro project can actually commence.

Further with the greater awareness of the local populace, the land acquisition is one of the major challenges. The basic perception of taking away livelihood of people dependent upon the proposed acquisition of land is one of the greatest stumbling block.  Generally, the frequency of transaction of land is very less in the hill areas and as such people bemoan that the compensation rate fixed by the state government does not incentivise them to part with the land. 

Associated environmental issues with the hydro projects and its greater awareness globally have led to experiencing great difficulty in getting the environmental clearance. This is also reflected in the stringent compliance conditions stipulations by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) and thus the whole process has become tedious and time consuming. 

The land acquisition, finalization of Rehabilitation and Resettlement Plan, comprehensive basin-wise catchment area treatment plan and accordance of various related clearances from various agencies has become quite time consuming  and comes across as an impediment to the project developer. The government has tried to streamline procedures to some extent, but the multiplicity of agencies and the lack of clear guidelines have led to time and cost overruns. 

In hydro projects with pondage, wildlife nourishment in the area and their travel routes changes to the natural variations in the water in a watercourse etc. Changes to the water level throughout the year can lead to scouring of fine substances and nourishment and cause erosion in the regulation zone. Draining would be completely devastating to the fish. The amount of water will also affect the fish in different ways, depending on the age and species of the fish. 

Proposed hydro projects construction duration are envisaged based on the prevailing geology and progress rate that can be achieved on daily and seasonal basis that is raining or snowing for period more than predicated for the area. Much among these, geology involved in projects components, specially the head-race tunnel, as it stretches to longer extent in run of river projects, magnifies the delay.  

How does your company tackle these challenges while installing the units?

To mitigate the challenges posed by lack of infrastructural facilities like non-availability of roads, SJVN takes up the matter proactively with state government and Ministry of Surface Transport, Government of India for construction of roads. During execution of 1500 MW NJHEP, a 20 km long Shimla bypass road was constructed by Ministry of Surface Transport so as to ensure the transportation of heavy construction machinery and the generating equipments.

SJVN, while acquiring land for its projects negotiates with the land owners in consultation with the state authorities. The compensation in general is higher than the prevailing average market value based on the negotiated price keeping in mind the interest of land oustees. The Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) measures are formulated after series of consultations with various stakeholders including land oustees and the state government and it has been always ensured that the R&R provisions are always kept higher than the provisions made in the National Policy on R&R.

Comprehensive EIA/EMP studies are carried out in most scientific manner so as to assess the potential damage to environment if any and measures to mitigate it in the most adequate manner. SJVN in all its projects takes necessary environmental safeguards, which includes afforestation programmes, catchment area treatment plan, biodiversity conservation plans, green belt and landscaping restoration of dumping areas, control of air and noise pollution, muck disposal, drinking water supply system, sewage and solid waste management plans, fisheries development plans, disaster management and environmental monitoring programmes. 

How do you cope up with various natural disturbances that might pose difficulties during the execution of projects?

Hydro power projects are site specific and therefore the potential of a hydro project depends much on the geological features of that area. As we all are aware that power potential prevailing in the lower reaches of the Himalayan region, which were well connected with the roads and construction was available, has already been tapped and potential in the upper reaches of Himalaya remain unharnessed. These upper reaches have high gradients and lack basic infrastructure facilities like roads, construction power, communication and evacuation of power.

During execution, hydro power projects have always been suffered by geological surprises like shear zones, cavity formations, high temperature zones and flooding of tunnels during underground constructions. These problems encountered increase the efforts required and thus cost of the project shoots up and shatters the funding plans and envisaged commissioning schedule. SJVN adopts various measures, like additional supports, deployment of additional machineries, and change in design etc. to tackle the unforeseen geological conditions. To address these challenges, SJVN has adopted a comprehensive monitoring system that keeps a check on cost and time over runs.

During operation stage, silt is also a major problem in Himalayan Rivers which hamper the generation plans during operation. Under water parts suffer major damages causing frequent forceful shut downs of the plants. In order to counter the menace of silt and thus reducing the time for maintenance shutdowns, SJVN established a hard coating plant for the underwater parts at its Nathpa Jhakri Power station and all the underwater parts are hard coated at the site itself which has not only considerably reduced the downtime but has also raised on productivity as in evident from our annual reports and the balance sheet. 

What according to you should the developers do to fast track the execution of project? 

Developers involved in the development of hydro projects located in upper reaches, have to involve themselves in the development of basic infrastructure facilities for their projects. This involvement may many times results in increase in the cost and delay in completion of the project.

SJVN during the development of Nathpa Jhakri Hydro Power Station was much involved in the development of NH-22 for preventing any delay in the schedule supplies. 

People nowadays are much aware of the land acquisition process and as such the land acquisition sometimes get stuck in its various stages. Compensation disbursed by the developers are always in accordance to the rate finalized by the concerned authorities, but demand for higher compensation sometimes leads to the sticking up of the acquisition process. A complete and compact Resettlement and Rehabilitation program with increase in amount of awareness that these hydro projects are planned to harness the potentials in resonance with local development can only be best possible way out for such problems.

(InfralineEnergy thanks Raghunath Prasad Singh, Chairman and Managing Director for sharing his valuable insights with our readers. The column 'In-Conversation', is a platform to engage experts from various sectors to share their views on the different transformations happening in the Indian energy sector.)