Work on mini hydropower units stuck in slow lane

Published February 17, 2021
Work on these hydel projects had begun in 2014 at the cost of Rs5.2 billion with 18 months time limit to provide electricity to off-grid villages in the northern districts. — AFP/File
Work on these hydel projects had begun in 2014 at the cost of Rs5.2 billion with 18 months time limit to provide electricity to off-grid villages in the northern districts. — AFP/File

PESHAWAR: The construction of 356 mini hydropower units by the Pakhtunkhwa Energy Development Organisation in 11 districts of the province has suffered a delay of around five years with officials blaming it on the frequent changes of project chief, non-payment of dues to implementing partners, and other technical and administrative issues.

Work on these hydel projects had begun in 2014 at the cost of Rs5.2 billion with 18 months time limit to provide electricity to off-grid villages in the northern districts.

The power plants are being put up in 11 districts, including Swat, Shangla, Kohistan, Chitral, Upper and Lower Dir, Abbottabad, Battagram, Buner, Mansehra and Torghar by seven NGOs and joint ventures.

Officials blame frequent changes of project head, payment issues for it

When contacted, Pedo chief executive officer Mohammad Naeem Khan admitted a long delay in the completion of Phase I of the mini hydropower project.

He, however, told Dawn that he had planned to complete the project before next June and had made all necessary arrangements for it despite the Covid pandemic challenge.

The Pedo chief said the project was an extremely difficult one as it comprised more than 350 independent sub-projects scattered in far-flung areas of 12 ‘difficult’ districts and was ‘mis-planned’ from the start.

He said every sub project itself was an independent one, whose location in snowbound areas allowed only half year of working season.

“We have planned a better Phase II of the project on the basis of the lesson learnt from Phase I,” he said.

Among the implementing NGOs are Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) and the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP). Both organisations have won the Ashden Award, known as the Green Oscar, for their contributions to the micro-hydel power generation in northern parts of the country.

Sources told Dawn that both NGOs did not turned up in the bidding for the second part of the project, which took place recently.

The project details available at the Pedo website reveal that until November last year, a total of 307 mini-hydel power units had been completed by implementing NGOs and JVs, while work on 25 were still in progress. Only 254 of completed projects were handed over to the communities.

An official of implementing partner told Dawn that the project was initially scheduled to be completed in 18 months but due to the mismanagement of the Pedo and KP energy and power department had dragged to five years.

He said the changing of project director at least six times during the course of the project was one the main reason, which caused a long delay as it caused leadership crisis.

The most recent case of project leader transfer took place earlier in Jan this year.

Two other implementing partners who also did not wanted to be named due to ongoing nature of their engagement with Pedo said that they were facing payment delays and their organization were also facing a pending payment of several million rupees for past many months.

Officials at the one of the partners said that they were also facing the cost overrun issues due to project being delayed; however, they have to complete the project under the estimates finalized in 2014.

A member of the other partner insisted that the Pedo was not interested in the project from the very start and took it over reluctantly due to provincial government directions.

“Pedo has already shifted its attention to major projects when it took over this project,” he said.

He said the project deadline of 18 months was unrealistic and they had pointed it out; however, were told that like other government projects it would keep getting extensions and the results that it was still getting extensions annually after failed to meet its initial deadline. “Recently another requesting seeking extension till June 2021 was in process,” he said.

He said the Pedo had so far failed to devise a policy regarding as to who will take over the projects bigger than community level and as a result several such completed projects were awaiting government attention.

Dawn has learnt that the implementing partners met adviser to the chief minister on energy and power Himayatullah Khan last month and asked him to appoint a full project director for the early project completion.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2021

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