Bhutan boost economy by powering India

Bhutan boost economy by powering India
Dagachhu Power plant in south West Bhutan

THIMPHU (BHUTAN)- Its giant neighbour India has a burgeoning economy that is power-hungry, while what this Himalayan kingdom has are swift rivers that pack more than a punch.

So tiny Bhutan, with a new government looking for ways to grow the country's economy, is not hesitating to tap its hydropower potential in collaboration with India. It hopes to increase the amount of electricity generated from the current 1,500MW to 10,000MW within seven years.

The picture is different next door in Nepal, with the same hydropower resources. It suffers from acute shortage of electricity with power outages extending to 12 hours, crippling businesses.

Its rivers have been able to generate just 660MW of the potential 40,000 MW of electricity because of prolonged political instability and its people's anti-India sentiments, which have led to stalled projects, including some India-backed ones. India is seen by Nepalese as a big brother that interferes with their internal affairs.

Nepal's national income per capita of US$610 (S$772) is way smaller than Bhutan's at US$2,292.

Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Topgay, who came to power five months ago in only the second general election in the kingdom, has made hydropower a priority on his to-do list. "Right now, our economy is so weak and so small, all I can say is thank heavens for hydropower. It's going to allow us to develop our country and strengthen our economy," he told a group of visiting journalists recently.

"The only question is: are we going to use it wisely. I certainly intend to use the opportunity of this god-given resource."

Next April, the Dagachhu power plant, started in 2009 and with a capacity of 126MW, will be commissioned.

Built with funds from the Asian Development Bank and a host of other partners including Indian conglomerate Tata Power, it is the country's first foreign direct investment project. It will sell all the power generated to India.

Two massive projects in western Bhutan, also being built in collaboration with India, will have a total capacity of 2,190MW.

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