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Why it's time to question the very need for hydel power projects of any kind in India

By Shankar Sharma*
An opinion piece, ‘Dam(n) it, what’s wrong with India’s hydropower push?’, has raised a number of very serious concerns to our people from the large number of hydel power projects being planned and built in the country. Whereas, the issues have been raised many times in the recent past, civil society has not been able to persuade the concerned authorities, especially the Ministry of Power, Ministry of Environment, NITI Aayog, and PMO, to provide satisfactory clarification to any of these concerns.
Having raised serious concerns on social and environmental perspective for decades, and noticing the apathy/ callousness of our authorities on all these issues, it may be useful now for civil society groups to focus on a diligent analysis of costs and benefits (CBA) to the larger society instead of considering the costs only for the project developer, while also seeking such CBA for each of the credible alternative options to achieve the same project goal.
For example, if the peak load support is stated as the objective for a Pump Storage Project (PSP) proposal, we should seek an effectively prepared the CBA for each of the alternative options, such as BESS (battery energy storage system).
At the risk of repeating myself, as has been emphasised on multiple occasions, I also suggest that we should ask serious questions on the lack of demand side management measures, efficiency improvement, and energy conservation.
For example, effective actions to shift a large number of non-essential/ non-critical usage of electricity to day time hours will minimise the perceived need for most of such peak load power sources. Also needing a critical examination is the question as to why every single usage of electricity needs to be fed by the integrated grid?
A number of applications such as streetlights, decorative lights, night time sports events, school/ college building illumination, security lights, most of the commercial lightings applications etc. can be efficiently/ economically fed by isolated renewal energy (RE) power sources, such as roof top SPVs combined with local level BESS. All such feasible options when aggregated at the state level, can drastically bring down or even eliminate the need for PSPs.
As far as the very need for additional conventional hydel power plants are concerned, the global society has come far from the era when such hydel power plants were perceived as essential to maintain the system security; the same is not required anymore. 
Just consider the cases of electricity supply scenarios in gulf nations, Australia, France etc. where the hydro potential is very low or nil. As, mentioned in the opinion piece above, the cost per unit of electricity from any additional hydel power plant is likely to be much higher than that from RE sources.
Hence, the time has come to question the very need for hydel power projects of any kind. Since, even our authorities cannot deny the deleterious impacts of hydel power plants on nature, civil society should strongly and persuasively advocate our societies to move away from hydel power plants of all kinds.
It is also a great irony that a number of BESS projects are also being tendered for in addition to PSPs in India. The primary question that needs to be asked at the highest level of the government is: if the large number of BESS projects, as is being planned/ built now, is believed to be essential/ useful, and techno-economically viable, why not have adequate number and magnitude of the same all over the grid to remove the need for hydel power plants?
All these issues and many more of true relevance to our country, could have been diligently discussed in an effective national energy policy, the draft of which came out in 2017. But our authorities seem to believe that such a policy document, which could have taken a holistic approach to the electricity demand/ supply scenario from the overall welfare perspective, is not necessary.
There is an urgent need for civil society groups to persuade the Union government to take such a holistic approach through a diligently prepared national energy policy.
---
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst

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