Hydropower: The Way Ahead
India’s hydropower (HP) potential is estimated at 148,701 MW. Of this, only 34,204.9 MW has been developed so far. 12,252 MW is reported as “under construction,” but implementation work on most of these projects is stalled, mostly due to environment-related concerns which are mostly misunderstood, or are wrongly projected. When a hydropower project installation is rejected on environmental grounds, like related deforestation, the nation does not reduce correspondingly its energy need target, and the resulting gap is considered to be made up by the ever-available coal-based thermal energy. Unfortunately, such alternative choice effectively replaces one-time felling of forest at one location, by undertaking perpetual mining of coal and resultant emission of corresponding additional GHG at some other location.
Of the 114,500 MW, or 77% of the potential that presently remains undeveloped, 93,020 MW is in the river basins of Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra, and Western Ghats. All these basin areas are perceived as ecologically sensitive and hence the HP projects located therein as causing damage to the environment. Further, the activists supporting such perceptions seem to enjoy a constitutionally “unrestricted right” to file a PIL against these projects at any stage of the project and invariably succeed in obtaining a stay order. As years after years pass with work stalled, the project loses its financial viability, and the investor pulls out. The government seemingly remains aware of the advantages of HP and includes it in energy planning but continues to lack the resolve to make it happen on ground. Forces working against it look to be too strong while the support is too feeble. In this scenario, any significant addition to HP seems unlikely. The governments need to take cognizance of and remove such hurdles from the path of hydropower or else, the country’s energy mix will remain ever handicapped due to deficit of additional hydropower.