New WAPDA chairman emphasizes importance of 969-MW Neelum Jhelum hydropower plant after recent visit

Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Plant Inspection

Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority is remaining steadfast in its commitment to completing the 969-MW Neelum Jhelum hydroelectric plant in the "shortest possible time" following the recent departure of two high-ranking executives in recent weeks.

Chief Executive Officer Zafar Mehmood submitted his resignation in mid-August, followed this week with a decision from CEO Lieutenant-General Muhammad Zubair to leave the company.

The departure of Mehmood and Zubair led to concerns that work on the Neelum Jeelum might stall as WAPDA worked to find replacements, but the state-run utility wasted little time in naming Muzammil Hussain as new CEO on August 25.

Since then, Hussain completed a three-day inspection of Neelum Jhelum, though the chair "showed concern over timelines and emphasized upon the project authorities that there is a need to reconcile these timelines in consultation with all stakeholders to achieve important time schedules," according to WAPDA.

The plant was originally to have begun operating in 2015, though WAPDA said earlier this year that it did not expect its first units to be commissioned until later this year.

The run-of-river project will use water diverted from the Neelum River in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Its location has sparked controversy throughout its development -- most notably due to conditions established between Pakistan and India by the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. With India developing its 330-MW Kishenganga project on the same waterway, the agreement dictates that whichever country completes its plant first will have priority rights to the river.

Neelum Jhelum's skyrocketing costs also caused previous investors -- including the Islamic Development Bank, Kuwait Fund for Development, Saudi Find for Development and Opec Development Fund -- to withdraw more than US$430 million in collective loans last year.

HydroWorld.com reported in June that the project had received a major cash injection when a consortium of 16 lending banks announced close to $1.5 billion in cumulative financing, adding to $955 million in Islamic bonds from the Pakistani government awarded in April.

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