Hydropower plant project is crucial for energy independence

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Taishir hydropower plant at the Ulaanboom gorge of Govi-Altai Province

Mongolia has long set a goal to transform from an energy importer to an exporter. However, it remains unable to meet its domestic needs to date. In fact, the country needs to stop being depend on others in terms of the energy sector. Mongolian energy resources, such as coal, solar and wind, are viewed “sufficient” to supply Central Asia butthe country still buys electricity from its two neighbors due to the lack of infrastructure. Therefore, there is an urgent need to implement large energy projects, such as hydropower plant project.

The country’s first hydropower plant, Guulin, was built and commissioned in 1997 in Delger soum of Govi-Altai Province by a Mongolian-Chinese joint venture. Since then, two of the largest energy projects in Mongolia, Taishir and Durgun hydropower plants, have been built and put into operation along with Bogdyn Gol, Tosontsengel, Khungui and Galuutain hydropower plants, satisfying the domestic energy consumption to some extent.

The successful implementation of the long-discussed Erdeneburen hydropower project, which aims to fully satisfy energy demands for the western region locally, is expected to take Mongolia a number of steps further in terms of energy independence. In other words, western provinces will no longer need to rely on imported electricity, be able to get a reliable source of renewable energy and source all of its energy consumption domestically.

IMPORTANCE OF HYDROPOWER PLANTS

The number of electricity consumers in Mongolia has increased by an average of 7 to 8 percent and domestic energy production by 6 to 7 percent annually in recent years. The load on the central power system reached a maximum of 1,308 MW on December 14, 2020, an increase of 155 MW from the peak of 2019 and 292 MW from four years ago. The maximum allowable amount of imported electricity (245 MW) was exceeded last year.

However, the state pays 15 billion MNT annually to import energy for the western region grid. If domestic energy projects are intensified well and promptly implemented, Mongolia will be able to put this money into circulation domestically without sending it out of the country.

Currently, there are nine power plants and thermal power plants, three diesel electric power plants, seven hydropower plants, three wind farms and seven solar power plants in Mongolia. However, the three western provinces (Khovd, Uvs and Bayan-Ulgii) receive more than 70 percent of their energy from Russia for 250 MNT per kilowatt. Bulgan, Uyench and Altai soums of Khovd Province buy electricity from China for 350 MNT per kilowatt. Although the Durgun hydropower plant, built almost a year ago in Khovd, generates electricity at 38 MNT per kilowatt, the three western provinces use the most expensive energy in Mongolia today. This shows the need to build additional hydropower plant for the region.

In fact, hydropower plants in Mongolia fully supply energy to some soums of western provinces. For instance, the Guulin hydropower plant supplies electricity to Delger soum of Govi-Altai Province and Shiluustei soum of Zavkhan Province between April and October. It draws water from Zavkhan River, so the plant is temporarily closed in winter. It starts operating in May. 

The Taishir hydropower plant, commissioned in 2008 at the Ulaanboom gorge of Govi-Altai Province, also provides permanent electricity to a total of 29 soums, including Taishir, Khaliun and Jargalan of the province and Tsagaanchuluut, Tsagaankhairkhan, Yaruu and Aldarkhaan soums of Zavkhan Province. It produces 37 million kWh of electricity every year.

Moreover, the Durgun hydropower plant was commissioned in 2008 at the Chono Kharaikh River in Durgun soum of Khovd Province. The 12-megawatt Durgun hydropower plant can generate 38 million kWh every year. The western region grid was 100 percent dependent on Russia, but with the commissioning of the hydropower, it now gets 25 to 30 percent of the provinces’ energy consumption domestically.

Head of Durgun Hydropower Plant Repair Department G.Dashdorj clarified, “In 2016, our plant generated 47.8 million kWh electricity and sold 45.3 million kW per hour to the western region system. The plant pays 82 million MNT annually to the local budget for water use and 5 million MNT for land use, as well as donates funds for local events.”

The construction of the 90-megawatt Erdeneburen hydropower plant, which is getting the spotlight, is set to begin in April next year pursuant to the agreement between Mongolia and China. The project, which has been stalled for many years due to external and internal factors, is seen as crucial for energy independence of Mongolia, and is considered significant to ensuring long-term energy supplies to western provinces.

It is expected to produce 366 million kWh of electricity annually and supply energy to the Altai-Uliastai regional power grid. Power Construction Corporation of China Ltd and Powerchina Chengdu Engineering Corporation Limited were selected to construct the new hydropower plant. With a soft loan from the Chinese government, the construction is planned to be completed in 2026 and open in 2027.

With the commissioning of the Erdeneburen hydropower plant, the western region will be able to use energy that is seven to 10 times cheaper than the current high-priced energy imported from Russia and China. The state budget spends 8 billion to 16 billion MNT a year on the energy system of the western region.

Lawmakers view that it will reduce electricity prices and tariffs, increase people’s incomes and reduce household expenditures. Some people see that there will be energy-intensive development such as big factories following the development of the large hydropower plant.

Minister of Energy N.Tavinbekh noted, “The largest of new renewable energy projects is Erdeneburen. The issue of constructing the plant at Khovd River has been discussed since 1964 in cooperation with foreign and domestic professional organizations.”

Coordinator of the Erdeneburen Hydropower Project Ch.Gantulga underscored that the construction of hydropower plants will contribute to the long-term development of science, education, culture and health in the region, continuously increase employment opportunities and improve the living standards of local residents.

Of course, the employment and population growth that will accompany the development would not only expand the market, but also affect trade turnover and expand the regional economy. 

Particularly, the western region’s integrated power grid will have the capacity to increase total energy consumption over the next 10 years, and a tourism, recreation and fisheries development zone will be established along the plant’s reservoir, according to project managers. Accumulation of large amounts of water and reservoirs is expected to increase ambient humidity and have a positive impact on the local climate and pastures. This will create opportunities to develop irrigated agriculture in Erdeneburen, Khovd and Buyant soums of Khovd Province, they view. 

Researchers also estimate that the project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, it is expected to reduce emissions by approximately 756,600 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Judging by all this, the project is not only economically viable but also environmentally friendly.

ERDENEBUREN PLANT IS NOT HARMFUL TO ENVIRONMENT

When the construction of the long-discussed power plant began last week, local herders started opposing it. There were no protests during the discussion of the project, but when the construction work was confirmed to start, herders suddenly began to protest. This typically happens during the construction of almost all hydropower plants.

When hydropower plants were built before, there were external and internal protests. Specifically, the Egiin hydropower project was stopped by the Russians when it was about to start with a lot of money, according to lawmaker S.Byambatsogt.

Herders and citizens had protested against the construction of Durgun and Taishir hydropower plants for many years. However, they stopped opposing these projects and now are “praising” them. This is because the plants have not had any negative impact on the environment so far. Current hydropower plants are demonstrating that they are harmless.

Conversely, the level of Ereen Lake around Taishir plant has reached a higher level than ever before, and the ecosystem around the lake has been restored, noted the Ministry of Energy. With the creation of artificial Gegeen Lake of the Taishir plant, the area has become eco-friendly. It formed favorable conditions for fish breeding in the lake. Executive Director and water engineer of Guulin-Taishir Company D.Amartuvshin reported that currently, two species of fish are breeding in Gegeen Lake. Researchers believe that this fish can breed only in clean water. This shows that the construction of a hydropower plant will not harm the environment. From the very beginning, this was made clear by the feasibility studies of the projects.

In particular, the preliminary feasibility study, conducted by the German company Lachmeier from 1998 to 1999, concluded that the construction of the Taishir hydropower plant was a technically sound solution, cost-effective and environmentally friendly. The feasibility study for the Durgun plant was developed by the Russian Hydroproject Institute in 1992. It also had the same conclusion. Therefore, there is no need to protest against and stall hydropower plant projects. 

The Erdeneburen power plant project is very important and needed in the country. The only negative side of the project is that it needs to relocate herders from the project site. This is because a 24 kilometers long and four kilometers wide reservoir needs to be built. The hydropower plant will operate normally only if a reservoir is established. Currently, 258 households live in the area where the reservoir will be built. In connection with this issue, Minister of Energy N.Tavinbekh has met with herders and presented his plan aimed to relocate more than 250 households in four soums of three provinces as part of the project. It is assumed that there are no other serious problems other than relocation of herders, so it is necessary to build and put the plant into operation on time.

Misheel Lkhasuren

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