Fifteen years ago, I started a new job in the Sindhupalchowk district in Central Nepal. I was working in the rural energy development section of the District Development Committee and supervised technical support for micro hydropower plants (MHPs) in the area.
My job also entailed reaching out to local communities and ensuring they were deeply involved, from installation to maintenance, in bringing micro hydro to their villages.
During my time in Sindhupalchowk, I witnessed firsthand the dramatic and positive changes hydro-powered electricity brought to people’s lives: houses lit up, radio and television sets came to life, mobile phones were easier to use, schools could run computer classes, small-scale enterprises flourished, and shops stayed open longer and offered more products. Moreover, the newly generated power contributed to improving the working conditions of women employed in local agro-processing mills as mechanical automation replaced labour-intensive manual processing.
y. Still, as the national grid was gradually deployed into rural areas – albeit with little coordination between the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), respectively responsible for the national grid and alternative energy promotion -- villages with both existing MHPs and a new grid connection faced an entirely novel problem.
In places like Bhuktangle, Parbat and Righa, Baglung, detailed feasibility studies and construction of MHPs had already been completed when the grid was extended to these areas. As a result, more than 50% of existing customers switched from their MHP-generated electricity services and the ensuing lower electricity usage made it difficult to pay off the loan that was taken out for the building of the plant. Ten districts in 2010 showed similar patterns as about 11% of MHPs are now competing with the national grid.