Cross-border Power

Updated: Nov 11 2003, 05:30am hrs
Indias electricity woes may get some respite with some prospective power suppliers appearing on the horizon. New Delhi has for long looked at the Central Asian states as a potential source for its energy requirements. However, the geographical location of these hydrocarbon-rich states of the region has constrained the transport of energy resources. Although a couple of potential routes have been pinpointed namely, through Iran, following swap deals with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, or piped gas from Turkmenistan the necessity of having to use transit facilities through Afghanistan, and particularly Pakistan, has seen New Delhi veto participation in such projects. Now, an offer has come from a Central Asian nation, which could meet some of Indias energy needs. For some time now, energy experts have suggested China as an alternative to the Afghan-Pakistan route for oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia. However, the technical difficulties of laying pipelines through hostile terrain has not seen many takers for this route. But during his recent visit, the trade and industry minister of Kyrgyztan proposed the direct transmission of power to India from its abundant hydro-electric resources via China.

No doubt, the Kyrgyz proposal has some merit. Not only would the laying of power transmission lines be easier than the construction of gas pipelines, but that Central Asian nation also has the requisite experience as it already supplies power to other non-contiguous states such as Russia. Also, Bishkek has apparently already entered into such an agreement in principle with Beijing; now it is offering to supply power to Indias power-deficient northern states. In this context, it must be mentioned that India already draws on cross-border power supplies from the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. This relationship has the potential to be an exemplar for similar cross-border trade in power. The power purchase agreement from the Chukha project in particular has stood the test of time. And last week, the Power Trading Corporation signed a deal whereby Nepal would supply eight hours of peaking power to the northern grid at a competitive price for a 25-year period. This project would go on stream in five years and provide power from a dedicated generation plant. With trans-border oil and gas pipeline projects being bogged down by regional politics, inter-state power trading provides a feasible alternative to gas, if not oil, pipelines.