As Nepal moves ahead with hydropower generation projects, it is also in the process of expanding its power distribution system by building transmission lines.

Transmission lines are necessary for transporting electrical power from the substation where it is generated to the various distribution units, and then (eventually) on to consumers.  In Nepal, most hydropower projects are located away from city centers where most electricity is consumed, so transmission lines are very important.

Transmission lines transmit waves of voltage and current from one end to another. When transporting electricity over long distances, it is necessary to use high voltage so as to minimize loss of energy.  High-voltage transmission lines are akin to “highways” for the propagation of electricity, whereas local power lines at lower voltage are like local systems of smaller roads and gallis. Each transmission line has four main parameters, namely resistance, inductance, capacitance and shunt conductance.

The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) is responsible for developing and operating Nepal’s high-voltage transmission line system, which is used by public as well as private hydropower generation projects.  (Private power production has been permitted since the implementation of the Electricity Act 2048 [1991].) Private power producers can use the NEA’s transmission lines by paying fees and fulfilling the conditions set by the government.  
However, construction of transmission lines has been slow. More than 60 transmission lines with various voltages (including 66, 132, 220 and 400 KV lines) are being constructed in the country,  of which only almost 30 are completed. The country does not yet have enough high-voltage transmission lines to transmit electricity generated at different places to the places where it is needed. The inability to construct transmission lines has negatively affected hydropower development, as investors worry about projects’ financial viability if they are unable to transport electricity.  Already, power generation has outpaced the capacity of the grid, resulting in wastage of some electricity.

Expansion of the electrical grid is necessary if Nepal hopes to ever export electricity.  However, even in the short-term, high-capacity transmission lines are needed for importing electricity from India to meet current Nepali demand.  Nepal must import electricity from India for the next 5-7 years until enough electricity can be generated inside the country. The same lines that are used for importing electricity in the short term can be used for exporting electricity in the long term.

Transmission line construction has frequently been delayed by disputes regarding land acquisition, getting permission to construct in forest areas, lack of timely payment to contractors who have completed their work, and security problems.  Of these, land acquisition appears to be the largest problem. Local communities frequently refuse to provide land for erecting towers and stringing power lines. Though the government provides full compensation at determined market prices for land used for towers, it typically only provides 10% of the market value of land used for “rights of way” – the area under the power lines, which remains with the owner, but on which they cannot build or plant trees. Developers claim that local people seek unreasonably high rates of compensation for their land, which they say they cannot afford.  

The government has a crucial role to play in resolving these disputes to ensure that Nepal has a full-capacity power grid.  It must make arrangements for acquiring the land needed with proper compensation, and it must do so quickly so that projects can move forward.  The NEA must also expand its department responsible for constructing transmission lines and initiate the process of establishing a separate public company for construction and operation of transmission lines. The government should also involve the private sector, utilizing the Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) model, in addition to building transmission lines itself. The government should also create policies that encourage private investors who want to construct hydropower projects along with transmission lines.