The Rampal Equation
The Rampal Power Plant, a proposed coal based power plant dangerously close to the Sunderbans, has been fiercely opposed ever since the agreement to build it was signed in 2012. Although the proposed 1320 megawatt power plant will produce electricity using coal, an affordable and abundant energy source, the consequences of building the power plant 14 kilometers away from the Sunderbans can be dire.
The highly criticized Rampal Power Plant costing an estimated 1.68 billion US dollars is not a completely futile project when its power production is considered. The power plant will have the capability to produce 1320 megawatt electricity, which will make it the biggest power plant in the country. Coal based power plants have been around since they were first built in the 1880s in America. Ever since then the technology to harness electricity from coal has been developed and made more efficient. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has likened the project to the Barapukuria Coal Power Plant, Bangladesh’s first coal power plant situated in Rajshahi. In an article published by Bangladesh Awami League’s website, she refers to the Barapukuria Coal Power Plant and said, “The whole power plant project area is surrounded by water bodies and greeneries, paddy fields and there was no effect of the power plant on the ecology”.
Since international coal prices are currently low, importing 4.72 million tons of coal a year to keep the power plant running is not an impractical notion. Coal’s abundance as a fuel gives the power plant sustainability to run comfortably for many years to come after it is built. America’s National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners has determined the average life-span of coal power plants to be around 40 years. As Bangladesh is exposed to natural disasters on a yearly basis, a coal power plant is definitely more practical than the more ambitious nuclear power plants. Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant was rendered useless and dangerous after the Tsunami resulting from the Tōhoku earthquake flooded it. Comparatively, a coal power plant would not become so dangerous even if it is affected by floods or other natural disasters and can be repaired.
The obvious merits of the proposed coal plant, however, are grossly overshadowed by the consequences it brings. The most important question regarding the Rampal Power Plant Project is this: What will be the environmental effects of a coal power plant built in such close proximity of the Sunderbans? The predicted answers are horrifying. A paper published by Dr. Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, Professor of Khulna University titled “Environmental Impact of Coal based Power Plant of Rampal on the Sundarbans and Surrounding areas” gives an insight into the environmental havoc the project will create. The paper says, “The proposed power plant will burn around 4.75 million tonnes of coal annually when more or less 0.3 million tonnes ashes and around 0.5 million tonnes sludge and liquid waste may be produced. It would also emit a good amount of carbon dioxide (CO2).” The vast amount of imported coal will be brought to the power plant via 59 ships per year. The coal carrying ships may spread coal-dust and sulfur around Poshur River and the mangrove forest lands surrounding it if they are not properly enclosed. Environmentalists opine that the project violates the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty that Bangladesh signed to protect wetlands. Economically, the project may backfire and sustain losses as well. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) published a paper titled “Risky and Over-subsidised: A financial analysis of the Rampal Power Plant” on June 17. The paper warns that the massive cost of the project will lead to 32% higher electricity prices in Bangladesh. Another important fact pointed out in the IEEFA published paper is that the plant’s location falls under the “Wind risk zone’ of Bangladesh where the plant may sustain damage due to storms. It has been conjectured that the power plant project may also be an instrument to India’s foreign policy as this joint project provides India with a profitable percentage of the electricity produce but none of the pollution. A proposal for a similar project was rejected from being built in India in 2010.
The decision to build a coal power plant comes at a time when countries such as China, USA and UK are shutting down their coal based power plants. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change of UK, Amber Rudd had stated, “Instead of the environment polluting coal plants, we will implement gas based nuclear power plants. We must not be dependent on a system that is destructive to nature.” For Bangladesh, an alternative to the coal power plant is the implementation of Solar Power Plants, an eco-friendly system that would successfully harness the amount of sunlight the country is blessed with.