Mega Projects, Major Issues
Saleque Sufi, An expert in energy sector infrastructure development, planning,
construction management and operation in Central and South Asia and Australia : Bangladesh appears to have adopted leapfrog strategy for achieving sustainable energy security towards achieving national vision for mid-income country by 2021 and developed country by 2041. The bottom line is to ensuring quality power and energy supply to all at affordable price in an environment-friendly manner.
From the power market size of 10,000 MW in mid-2018 to 24,000 MW in 2021, 40,000 MW in 2030 and 60,000 MW in 2041 would be a paradigm shift. One must carefully assess the issues and challenges and be pragmatic and realistic. Does Bangladesh have the stomach to digest all impacts of imported fuel dependency? Can it arrange the billions of dollars of funding for implementing all infrastructures for coal and LNG import? Can the domestic industries, which mostly rely on low priced energy and power, remain competitive with much higher priced )power and energy from expensive fuel?
Does Bangladesh have or can grow required number of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled human resources within time to manage the huge infrastructure and facilities? The planning and aggressive mission definitely needs courage but implementing mission requires required capacity for embracing all challenges.
The mission Bangladesh for development of mega energy and power projects may get severely affected for lack of required skills and efficiency of technical and managerial skills. The programs of required capacity development of human capital have not produced required number of skilled manpower to mastermind and spearhead planning, designing, engineering, implementation management and operation of so many imported coal-based ultra-super critical technology adopting large coal-fired power projects. So many mega energy and power projects are definitely going to be paradigm shift for Bangladesh energy and power sector. We are unsure whether Bangladesh is ready or not. In almost 10 years of the consecutive two terms of the present government, required infrastructure could not be created for utilizing the 16,000 MW plus power generation capacity. The highest generation possible was a little over 10,000 MW during the peak hours of a day. Only a little over 1 Tcf new gas could be added to the national grid but over 8 tcf gas from proven reserve was consumed from 2009-2018. The 3.2 billion tonnes proven reserve of superior quality coal remains mostly unutilized. Bangladesh is in a maze how to explore the vast untapped petroleum resources in the deep water of the Bay of Bengal. Power generation continues to suffer from serious crisis of fuel supply, capacity constraints of transmission and distribution system. Gas grid suffers from poor maintenance of gas grid and inefficient management of gas transmission infrastructure development.
In this backdrop, national energy security is getting uncertain and vulnerable for planned almost exclusive import dependency of primary fuel (LNG & Coal). Volatile global energy market would definitely create uncertain price impacts. Regional and global geopolitics can impact upon supply chain management. Bangladesh does not have facilities or would not be in a position to set up storage facilities for coal and LNG for 3-6 months to sustain any event of fuel supply chain disruptions. We are not sure if Bangladesh is going to have the right fuel mix for energy generation towards achieving sustainable energy security.
Ten years of a democratic government over two consecutive terms is about to be completed soon. True, there has been significant milestone achieved in power generation. From a huge crisis prone situation, the situation in power grid improved a lot. From mere 3,000 MW actual supply to over 10,000 MW is a remarkable achievement. Gas production has also increased from 1,700 MMCFD to 2,700 MMCFD. But impressive GDP growth of over 6.5-7% annually has outpaced the growth of power and energy sector. Bangladesh has failed to diversify fuel mix. About 62% dependence on depleting natural gas has created gas famine in gas franchise area. Political dilemma has kept discovered coal resource underground. Poor planning, bureaucracy dominated mismanagement failed to achieve momentum in traditional fuel based (gas and coal) baseload power plants development. Dependency on imported liquid fuel-based contingency plants has grown above 40%. In the current volatile global fuel market, this dependency has already created panic.
All mega coal-fired power projects are running 3-4 years behind schedule. Coal import program (sourcing coal and firming long term supply contracts) appears dodgy. Coal transportation remains an issue as Bangladesh has only Matarbari South available for a reliable coal port development. About 12,000 MW coal power generation plants are planned for Matarbari Moheshkhali area in anticipation of a Coal Transshipment Terminal (CTT) of 40 million tonnes capacity at Matarbari. Right now, the Matarbari Coal Port Development for 2X1,200 MW JICA-assisted power plants appears to be on the right track. The 14-Km long 240-meter wide and 18.5-meter draft port connecting channel at Matarbari may be ready by 2021 if present momentum is maintained. Arranging required funding for the CTT at Matarbari is still uncertain. In this scenario, it is not sure how many of the planned coal-fired power plants would finally go ahead if government do not start mining its own coal adopting the technically appropriate mining technology and develop coal transportation facility by rail from mine mouth to power plants. In Australia, we witness coal being transported over 350-400 Km by railway.
Coal transportation for Rampal Power Plant and power plants at Payra would have to huddle across similar issues. Carrying coal by mother vessels, anchoring them at deep water and transshipment in smaller vessels can be an ideal solution for large power plants. Monsoon turbulence of Bay of Bengal would not allow transshipment for more than 7 months. Coal power plants may not have storage facilities for more than 3 months. We are sure whether all these are factored in planning of large imported coal power plants.
Exploiting Own Coal
We hope our policy makers have started realizing the huge risks and challenges of primary fuel import especially the issues of coal port and LNG terminal development and price impacts. Own coal still remains the most viable, technically and financially the best option. None has possibly read the very authentic feasibility study reports prepared by accredited mining consultants attached with Scheme of Development (SOD) of Phulbari Mining Project. All issues ranging from Farming Land Rehabilitation, Mine Water (subsurface and Surface Water Management), Relocation and Rehabilitation of Mine affected Community have been very precisely and professionally addressed. Barapukuria and Phulbari are the most ideal candidates for modern open cut mining. The government-appointed high-powered committee had also recommended for pilot open pit mining at Barapukuria North and reviewing the feasibility reports of Phulbari Mine by third party. But all those documents are gathering dust. There is no problem in going for mining from Khalaspeer and Dighipara adopting the right mining method.
We apprehend finding no other options the government would eventually go for mining. Nothing but mining properly and setting up 5,000-10,000 MW mine-mouth power plants can secure the immediate future of power supply for Bangladesh.(Abridged)
This article has been printed under a syndication arrangement with energy and power.