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Salma Dam: Making Afghanistan Power-Ready – Analysis

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Given the unrelenting Indian support to the Salma Dam Hydro Power Project, it was appropriately rechristened as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam (Salma Dosti Dam).

By Monish Gulati and Chayanika Saxena*

As a marker of sustained assistance to the reconstruction of Afghanistan which has been ravaged by decades of externally-aided wars and internal strife, the rebuilding and re-operationalization of the Salma Dam in the Herat province with the Indian support is being hailed for all the right reasons, especially since it is one of those few energy-generating projects which have seen the light of the day.

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi will be in Afghanistan on his second state-visit to Afghanistan in less than six months to inaugurate this facility on June 4, 2016. Coming close on the heels of the inauguration of Afghanistan’s National Assembly, which too was an Indian contribution to Afghanistan, the forthcoming visit by the Indian PM is meant to demonstrate the depth of Indo-Afghan ties. Having been relegated to a secondary position in Afghan President’s ‘five-circle policy’, the increasing Indian prominence on Afghanistan’s geo-political landscape can be seen as both, the changing stance of the present Afghan government vis-à-vis India as also an emerging sense of clarity in the Indian foreign policy towards Afghanistan, which at best has been described as ambiguous, if not listless.

Salma Dam

The 20km long dam that has been built on the Harirud River is expected to provide 42MW (3×14 MW) of electricity besides irrigating 75,000 hectares of land. The efforts to revive the project began under the Vajpayee government and started taking concrete shape beginning 2006 when USD 275 million was allocated to the project. Although beset with significant attempts of sabotage, and which included a foiled action by the Afghan Taliban to destroy the dam using 1,300 kgs of explosive.

Given the unrelenting Indian support to the Salma Dam Hydro Power Project, it was appropriately rechristened as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam (Salma Dosti Dam). The Indian association with this dam has been rather old, with the Indian Public Sector Enterprise (PSU), WAPCOS having offered to reconstruct the dam back in 1988 itself. However, due to the destructive civil war that ensued, the project had to be left in the middle.

Salma Dam involved the construction of a 107.5 meter high earth and rock – fill dam and a 42 MW power House with three units of 14 MW each. In Dec 2015 the Union Cabinet, approved the reconstruction and completion of Salma Dam Project in Afghanistan at the Revised Cost Estimates (RCE) of INR. 17757 million.
The completion of the Salma Dam in Herat is a step forward in the direction of local power production to reduce reliance on imported electricity.The reconstruction of the Salma Dam will have significant domestic resonance given that the province lies at the heart of many initiatives for enhanced connectivity, besides establishing an example of success in the rather lethargic yet challenging domain of power generation in Afghanistan.

Current Power Situation

Afghanistan has got the potential to generate around 314,500 MW of electricity from different sources. However, despite the massive potential that it holds, the country is imports around 76 percent of its requirement from Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan due to variety of issues, chief among which is the lack of security. Sustainability and effectiveness of the projects remains a low in priority, and this is the reason that 60 percent of the population in Afghanistan continues to be deprived of this basic facility, as confirmed by the Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS, Afghanistan Electricity Company) in August last year. To provide electricity to all Afghans 5,000 MW of electricity is required.

The issues relating to under-exploitation of resources in Afghanistan is compounded by the free-loading attitude of powerful individuals and organizations in the country that do not pay their utility bills. In December 2015, there were 25 state institutions that owed over Afs 2.7 billion in unpaid electricity bills.

Without increased production of power, Afghan economy cannot expect to recover, or for that matter, even sustain itself. Local production of electricity is of utmost importance not only because it will help in the industrialization of the country, but it will also give control to such vital assets to a country that is currently dependent on foreign aid to meet its basic economic requirements.

Electricity Imports

According to some statistics, of the 1,150 MW of electricity consumed in the country, 250 MW is generated from domestic resources and remaining 900 MW is imported resulting in a complex power grid. According to Afghanistan Analyst Network (AAN), the national power grid operates in nine different ‘islands’/grids depending on power supply sources. This means that different regions are supplied by different sources, and due to technical limitations these regions are not interconnected – or synchronised. For instance, Turkmenistan’s network supplies power to the Northern provinces of Faryab, Jowzjan and Sar-e Pol and, on a separate network, partly to Herat. While Uzbekistan supplies Parwan, Samangan and partly Kabul.

Also under various stages of development are two transnational power systems, the TUTAP and CASA-1000 which will move electricity from Central Asia to South Asia. CASA-1000 would transfer 1300 megawatts of electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan and TUTAP would import electricity from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. CASA-1000 project is expected to be inaugurated soon. These projects would not only supply Afghanistan’s need for electricity but Afghanistan would also receive transit fee from Pakistan, thereby generating revenue for this cash-strapped nation.

TUTAP project, which is budgeted to cost more than one billion dollars intends to meet the energy demands of Afghanistan in a first phase and on completion is expected to ‘unify’ Afghanistan power grid, resulting in an integrated transmission network. CASA-1000, scheduled to be completed by 2019, is the acronym for Central Asia South Asia Regional Electricity Market (CASREM), which will transmit 1,300 MW to Pakistan and Afghanistan through a High Voltage Direct Current transmission system. CASA-1000 is administered by the World Bank. Afghanistan would provide the path for the transmission line and would be allocated 300 MW for the Kabul network. However, CASA would not be able to provide power in the winter season.

Promise of Renewables

Afghanistan, which currently produces less than 300 MW from domestic source, mainly hydropower and diesel-based generation, has a potential to generate 314,500 MW of electricity from renewable sources. Solar Energy is seen to be the biggest source of power for Afghanistan. Around 222,000 MW of electricity could be generated from solar energy in the country with at least 300 sunny days in a year. Around 67,000 MW of electricity can be generated by wind turbines in Afghanistan. Farah province has the potential to generate 18,000 MW of electricity from wind. At least 12,000MW could be generated in Herat province, 10,000MW in Nimroz, and 1,800MW in Helmand. Afghanistan has the capacity to generate 23,000 MW of electricity through the construction hydropower dams.

Yet there has undoubtedly been progress. In 2002, less than 15 per cent of Kabul residents (less than 8 per cent of all Afghans) had power. Today, 70 per cent of the citizens of the capital – estimated at 4 to 5 million people, of an overall population of around 30 million – are connected to the power grid or have access to electricity. There is more hope by the end of 2017, a 200 MW gas-fired power plant in Sheberghan (in Jowzjan province), a new transmission line from Pul-e Khumri to Kabul to carry 1,000 MW and a 500 kV substation in Arghandi, just outside Kabul are expected to be added to the grid. A transmission line from Turkmenistan, bringing additional 300 MW initially and 500 MW later is also expected to come on stream by 2018.

As peace continues to evade Afghanistan and the international assistance to this economically fledgling country dwindles, it is crucial for it to start cultivating its own resources to create a better, sustainable future for the millions who live within its boundaries. Salma Dam indicates how stakeholders can come together to help a regional ally, India, in creating and securing an infrastructural asset that will be of utmost benefit of the people of Afghanistan.

*Monish Gulati is the Associate Director and Chayanika Saxena a Research Associate at Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. They can be reached at: [email protected] This article was published at South Asia Monitor


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Monish Gulati

Monish Gulati is an independent analyst based in New Delhi.. He can be reached at [email protected]

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