The energy starved Pakistan has tremendous potential to produce cheap electricity through micro hydroelectric power projects even in areas where there are no dams, says Masudul Mulk, head of Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP).
In an interview with The Friday Times, he said 100KW plants could be set up for as little as Rs 10 million.
The SRSP is working on a number of such projects in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with the assistance of the European Union.
[quote]100KW plants can be set up for as little as Rs 10 million[/quote]
Regions on a height, where water is falling from the mountains, are ideal for micro hydel projects, he said. The SRSP has installed successful plants in Kohistan, Malakand, Chitral, Upper and Lower Dir and Shangla.
“The electricity produced by micro hydel projects is more dependable than electricity from the national grid. I don’t get electricity 24/7 in any part of Pakistan except in my village in Chitral,” he said. Such plants are ideal for such remote villages that are not connected to the grid. The SRSP plans to set up 40 such projects in the province.
“It is extremely cost effective,” he said. Villagers are paying Rs 3.8 to Rs 6 per unit for electricity that is being generated by micro hydel projects, whereas we, the residents of Islamabad, pay Rs 14 for a unit.”
The idea came to Pakistan in late 1960s, he said, and was successful in the plains of Punjab. But other experts say similar projects were also carried out before partition by Sir Gangaram, who was an engineer.
The idea was replicated in KP and northern areas where there is no electricity infrastructure.
Micro hydel power plants can produce thousands of megawatts of electricity if the initiative is encouraged by the government, Masudul Mulk said.
The Aga Khan Rural Support Program did a commendable job providing electricity to the local people in Gilgit through such projects, he added. Other NGOs and community based organizations are emulating the idea.
“Micro hydel projects are for communities,” he said. “The biggest problem in their implementation is faced at the stage when the community has to be educated and mobilized. The community has to look after every aspect of the project. The community members run the project, collect the bills, take care of repairs, etc. It seems difficult but SRSP has had a good experience.”
Micro hydel projects serve 100 to 200 households. “A case of electricity theft was reported in one of the villages. The villagers disconnected the electricity of that house as punishment for two months and restored it after the guy repented.”
[quote]”If you bring in the government, the villagers will become hostage to a bureaucrat”[/quote]
That is perhaps why many in Pakistan want the government to stay away from the initiative. “If you bring in the government at village level, then the villagers will become hostage to a bureaucrat,” Masudul Mulk said. “Let the government encourage the donors. It does not have the capacity to motivate a community, and it can never develop it.”
In one of the villages, a channel was swept away by floods. “Had the government been the in charge, the channel would have been restored in years or perhaps never. But the villagers did not hire any labor, they fixed it themselves. The electricity was restored within a few days. It was amazing. The bureaucratic attitude demoralizes the community.”
[quote]”A case of electricity theft was reported in one village. The villagers disconnected his house for two months, until he apologized”[/quote]
He said such projects could be sustained with charity. “Charity for micro hydel projects, just like charity for health and education, can be a great idea. People have to be educated about it.”
In the Gali Bagh village in the Charbagh area of Swat, a local landowner installed a micro hydel project in his village 21 years ago. Muhammad Sher Khan is now 84. His son Ajmal Khan is taking care of the project.
“The project needs initial investment, and then a very little sum is required to replace generator’s belt or ball bearings.” In Gilgit, dozens of villages have installed such projects on a self-help basis.
The writer is our correspondent in Islamabad.
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