Hydro-electric (hydel) power projects are a matter of huge debate across the world. Such projects are blamed for destroying biodiversity in some of the world’s biggest river basins, not to speak about the massive human displacement. On the other hand, the power developers and governments cite that hydel power is clean and does not cause pollution. They say hydel plants are sustainable, unlike thermal ones which are always dependent on minerals, which are not infinite. Besides, thermal plants cause huge air pollution. Then, cost of thermal power might skyrocket based on price of coal, natural gas, diesel, etc. All these arguments in favour of hydel power make sense when the so-called green and renewable energy can supply uninterrupted power. The irony is that hydel power is a seasonal power. It cannot light the bulbs in people’s homes round the year. Take the example of Meghalaya – the largest hydel plant in the state and first in the North-east, Umiam, produces only 40 megawatt (MW) against its installed capacity of 185 MW. Look at the newly-established 126 MW Myntdu-Leshka project – it produces 6 MW! Were all calculations about the capacity of these projects wrong? They cannot be because the power minister Clement Marak said the production went down because of less rainfall, which is no wonder during this period of the year.
The state’s total production, 46 MW, well short of the current demand of 214 MW, is just 15 per cent of its total installed capacity of 310 MW. And why not, in some cases the water flow of a river may vary up to 10:1 during the course of the year. Being a run-of-the-river project, the massive drop in power production at Myntdu-Leshka is not surprising. Such projects do not have any reservoir, and hence make no major displacement, although the impact on the aquatic life remains almost the same. If the ratio of water flow during the year in this region is so pathetic, what is the reason that governments and power developers and even some experts make such tall claims about clean energy. There must be enough energy to call it clean!
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 15, 2014)