Nepal’s Pinthali village goes off-grid, now suffers

The meticulously planned off-grid systems of power generation in a village suddenly can suffer a major undoing of the gains if grid electricity is brought to the place.

Isolated off-grid systems usually fail when the government does not have a clear roadmap on what they want to do in the village as far as electrification goes in the long term. Their very small scale of generation makes it difficult for off-grid producers to partner with electricity user groups. The Electricity Act does not allow the government utility to purchase power from community run power plants to feed into the grid unless the community generates enough to feed at least a 33 KVA substation, a condition many small systems cannot meet.

A classic case is of Pinthali. It is celebrated for being one of Nepal’s first off-grid villages. The village has firm rules in place to share power from the small power plant. Pinthali lies in remote Nepal and has become the center of attention for many curious visitors. Every village household has installed CFL bulbs on the threat of stiff penalties. TV sets are not allowed to be used in the dry season when hydro power cannot be generated as the rivers go dry. The unmetered households are charged a tariff of Rs. 40 per month to be paid in advance. Those with power-hungry enterprises such as poultry and power tools are charged more.

The entire initiative was started in 1997 and covers about 600 households. It was led by community organizations that support community forestry, irrigation, and sanitation and health. The project’s focus was broader than energy. It supported adult literacy camps, sanitation works such as pit latrines and toilet attached biogas plants. It also aggressively promotes a small enterprise for poultry and mushroom farming as well as growing off-season vegetables and milling of rice.

The 12 kilowatt hydro power system was set up as a cooperative. The plant supplies electricity to the families in the village. Solar TV systems electrify another 100 households.

Now the electricity authority has plans to bring power to the village. This will negate all the effort made over 15 years. The village has been persuading the power authority to buy power from the village. But the quantum is too low for the power authority.

Pic: trevorstravels.com

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