Bhutan is a small country, located northeast of India. While small, the country has the potential to generate a massive amount of hydro power, since it is home to mountainous terrain brimming with fast-flowing rivers.
The area could generate up to 30,000 MW of power, though it is estimated that, given the limits of technology, 24,000 MW is a reasonable real-world estimate. However, there are many environmental concerns associated with rapid expansion of hydro power projects, and the country may need to re-strategize, according to Shripad Dharmadhikary, whose paper on the subject was published by International Rivers, an organization that works to protect rivers.
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in 2014, his first visit was to Bhutan. The country is strategically important to India, because of its location between India and Tibet. Bhutan, however, also exports 75% of its electricity to India, who is therefore extremely interested in increasing hydro power generation. It works out well for Bhutan too, though, as hydro power exports account for 25% of the country’s GDP and more than 40% of their revenues
The goal, as of now, is to build 10,000 MW of capacity by the year 2020. That means adding ten new mega-projects, a prospect that surprisingly has the public increasingly concerned. However, Bhutan has invested heavily in conservation, and 52% of its land is considered protected. Construction projects greatly affect the environment, and people are worried about the impacts.
The Punatsangchhu project, a mega-plant built in the habitat of the endangered White Bellied Heron, has already had negative impacts on the population and reduced their habitat to an even smaller area, putting the species at a great risk of extinction.
There is only one hydropower plant with a fish ladder, and so far, there have not been many encouraging results from their use.
While hydro power will be a cornerstone of clean energy generation in the future, the paper concludes that it is not wise to pursue these projects without considering the ramifications, especially when it is in “pursuit of revenues”, as the author states.