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Bangladesh Ruling Party Fails In Resolving Electricit​y Crisis

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At least two intelligence agencies in Bangladesh have warned the ruling party of sudden spark of mass revolt by the civilians following limitless sufferings caused by extreme shortage of electricity, which not only is jeopardizing public life, but also is destroying country’s economic backbone. “One or multiple mass revolt may break out at any time in the country during the month of June-September, as there is no sign of any improvement in the existing severe power crisis”, the report said.

It said the opposition parties may now pick up the power crisis issue at the top of their anti-government agenda, which will help them in getting huge support from the masses, who already are totally frustrated and annoyed on the ruling party. Meanwhile, seeing the power crisis continuing to increase, the energy advisor of the Prime Minister, Dr. Tawfiq Elahi Chowdhury has visibly gone into isolation from the media, as he too is now nervous thinking the ultimate consequences of his failures, which may cause any political setback in the country. Meanwhile, Bangladesh Nationalist Party is reportedly taking series of movement plans on the issue of power crisis to press the ruling party into corner. The opposition will also make countrywide appeal to the people to raise voice against the failure of the ruling party in addressing the power crisis as well as limitless looting of public wealth in the name of Quick Rental Power Plant(QRPP). Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) may sponsor several Writ Petitions in the apex judiciary in the country by various people from different walks of life, demanding court’s order in releasing White Paper on the existing situation prevailing in the power sector. Political analysts feel, if BNP top-brasses will ultimately give green signal to such movement strategies, it will surely put the ruling party into serious political challenges.

The urban Bangladesh now faces almost 10-12 hours load shedding every day while the situation in the rural areas are even worst, where in most cases, the length of load-shedding range between 18-20 hours. Though the current government led by Bangladesh Awami League made specific pledges to the nation of greatly resolving the power shortage maximum by 2012, in reality the situation is getting worst from bad. Power crisis has already affected country’s production sector, while severe environmental pollution is continuing due to use of generators at domestic, commercial and industrial establishments. Diesel-run generators not only create unbearable noise, it also releases hazardous smokes or gas, which is extremely vulnerable to human health.

Bangladesh Awami League led government signed dozens of contracts with various private companies for getting quick rental power plants in the country, which were expected to contribute in prompt resolving the existing power shortage. As of August 2011, establishment and timely commencing production of the major segments of the power plant, contracted to be established on “Quick Rental” basis in Bangladesh were failing gradually, thus not only causing huge amount of financial loss to national exchequer but also increased sufferings of the citizen of the country. Up to April, 2011 all the 14 Quick Rental Power Plant (QRPP) projects, which were undertaken by the ruling Bangladesh Awami League government on a fast-track basis to generate electricity to meet the current acute power crisis in the country, have miserably failed to commence production. According to contract, these projects were scheduled to start production latest by April 2011.

The policy of letting private companies establish QRPP was greatly criticized by experts in the country. Many said, this was a mere money-making project of some of the influential figures in the government and the ruling party. Awami League government adopted a Crash Program in October 2009 to set up power generation plants in next five years having total capacity of 7,000 MW. So far, the government has signed contracts for 33 power plants in the public and private sectors. Among those, most are costly quick rental and rental power plants. The private sector sponsors were supposed to install these plants from which the government would purchase electricity at a very exorbitant rate of between TK 9.75 (US$ 0.13) and TK 22 (US$0.29) per unit.

Power Development Board (PDB) said, the rental, quick rental and peaking plants were undertaken on a fast-track basis to address the nagging power crisis. The QRPP projects were supposed to add about 1,000 MW of electricity to the national grid. These QRPP projects are Meghnaghat 100 MW, Khulna 115 MW, Meghnaghat 100 MW, Ghorasal 78.5 MW, Ashuganj 80 MW (gas-generated), Keraniganj 100 MW, Ashuganj 53 MW, Noapara 40 MW, Amnura 50 MW (Chapainawabganj district), Juldha 100 MW, Siddhirganj 100 MW and Katakhali 50 MW.

Energy ministry sources in Bangladesh claimed that, QRPP were considered to be quickest method of meeting the growing demands of electricity in the country, and end consumers will pay the same or a bit less for their electricity.

Opposing the idea of QRPP, experts said that mostly second-hand equipments and machinery are used in such plants, which will be less efficient and the tariff will ultimately rise. They argue that the government would be better off spending money on upgrading the existing power stations. It was also told by the experts that almost eighty percent of the QRPP in Bangladesh were drawing bills from the government without supplying any electricity to the national grid or were making false bills showing fake production capacity. Another source said, almost all the QRPPs in Bangladesh are not producing even 5 percent of their contracted electricity, while they are continuing to receive bills for the total volume of contracted electricity by establishing a syndicate of looters with the help of few extremely influential figures in the government as well as the ministry and the departments concerned. Since the current government came in power and started giving contracts to QRPPs, a few million hundred dollars have been regularly looted every month from the national exchequer, while the government is engaged in exorbitant increase in price of electricity as well as fuel. The situation is like, as if the ruling party is snatching money from the people with the promise of improving the power crisis, while in reality major segment of such money is not only looted in free-style, but also smuggled out of the country.

Bangladesh’s energy infrastructure is quite small, insufficient and poorly managed. The per capita energy consumption in Bangladesh is one of the lowest (136 kWH) in the world. Non-commercial energy sources, such as wood, animal wastes, and crop residues, are estimated to account for over half of the country’s energy consumption. Bangladesh has small reserves of oil and coal, but very large natural gas resources. Commercial energy consumption is mostly natural gas (around 66 percent), followed by oil, hydropower and coal.

Electricity is the major source of power for country’s most of the economic activities. Bangladesh’s installed electric generation capacity was 4.7 GW in 2009; only three-fourth of which is considered to be ‘available’. Only 40 percent of the population has access to electricity with a per capita availability of 136 kWh per annum. Problems in the Bangladesh’s electric power sector include corruption in administration, high system losses, and delays in completion of new plants, low plant efficiencies, erratic power supply, electricity theft, blackouts, and shortages of funds for power plant maintenance. Overall, the country’s generation plants have been unable to meet system demand over the past decade.

In generating and distributing electricity, the failure to adequately manage the load leads to extensive load shedding which results in severe disruption in the industrial production and other economic activities. A recent survey reveals that power outages result in a loss of industrial output worth US$1 billion a year which reduces the GDP growth by about half a percentage point in Bangladesh. A major hurdle in efficiently delivering power is caused by the inefficient distribution system. It is estimated that the total transmission and distribution losses in Bangladesh amount to one-third of the total generation, the value of which is equal to US$ 247 million per year. Bangladesh has 15 MW solar energy capacities through rural households and 1.9 MW wind power in Kutubdia and Feni. Bangladesh has planned to produce 5 percent of total power generation by 2015 & 10 percent by 2020 from renewable energy sources like air, waste and solar energy.

The Ministry of Power and Energy has been mobilizing TK. 40,000 crore (US$ 5.88 billion) to generate 5,000 MW of electricity to reduce load shedding into a tolerable level within next three years during the term of the present government, which came in power in January 2009. Under this plan, Power Development Board (PDB) was supposed to generate 500MW gas-generated electricity between July-December 2009. The PDB was also supposed to hire furnace-oil based 1000MW electricity from private sector during January-June 2010. According to this plan, the government was also supposed to install furnace-oil based 800MW power plant. But so far, most of such five-year plans have miserably failed.

Meanwhile the government decided to establish a 1000MW Nuclear based power plant with Russian technical assistance at Rooppur. Bangladesh government already has signed a framework agreement with Russia in this regard. Commenting on possible risk of radiation leaking from the damaged nuclear plant as it happened in Japan, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “those power plants were constructed 40 years back, whereas present security systems at the nuclear power plants have improved significantly.”

Bangladesh government aspires to complete the first 1000MW nuclear based power station at Rooppur by 2015 while another plant is planned to be established at the same site with same production capacity by 2018.

Ministry sources indicate that, Russians though have signed contract with the Bangladesh government for the establishment of nuclear based power station, it has not yet submitted the details on how Bangladesh would dispose off the nuclear waste that would be released from the plant.

Experts have already issued warning of potential hazards; much ahead of Bangladesh concluded the deal with Russia, without properly evaluating the risk hazards. Sources within the energy ministry, on condition of anonymity told Times of Assam that, decisions related to power plants are being exclusively dictated and finalized by Prime Minister’s advisor Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi, who, according to energy experts, greatly lacks in proper knowledge and experience on such nuclear power plants. Moreover, there are serious allegation of manipulation and corruption by Dr. Tawfiq in finalizing power plant deals. Many opine that, he is solely responsible for the current failures of establishment of QRPP by private and public companies.

Meanwhile, a local company named Quantum Power Limited (an enterprise of OTOBI Limited) was already fined TK 200 crore (US$ 25 million) for their failure in commencing production of a 105MW plant at Bheramara district in Bangladesh. Quantum Power Limited got this contract against QEPP project. The authorities concerned though have collected an amount of TK. 6.4 million (US$ 90,000) only as penalty money out of the total amount of TK 200 crore (US$ 25 million), while, OTOBI is actively pursing with various important figures in the government including the energy advisor in averting payment of the remaining amount of penalty.

QRPP projects have already come totally messed up as the policymakers in the energy ministry, instead of looking into national interest were busier in making evil cash. A large number of projects were also illegally awarded to a company owned by two of the influential and controversial ministers in the government.

Even 20 months after a major gas-fired power plant in Ghorashal went out of order due to negligence of its technicians; the Power Development Board (PDB) could not select a contractor to repair it due to a slow bidding process and change of decisions. The damage of the 210 megawatt plant in July 2010 worsened the country’s load shedding situation. As it remains out of order, the government is spending extra money to buy similar amount of power from rental power plants, said a well-placed PDB official. While the lowest purchase price of power from rental plants is TK 4.8 per kilowatt hour, the same amount of power from Ghorashal plant, built by Russian company Technopromexport, costs less than TK 3. This means the government is counting heavy replacement cost. Some insiders at Energy Ministry seeking anonymity said the 210-megawatt power station at Ghorashal is kept shut-down by the syndicate of looters, who are taking undue advantage of this situation and continuing to visibly rob-off the nation.

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Bangladesh Ruling Party Fails In Resolving Electricit​y Crisis

By: Sohail Sohail Choudhury Read time: 10 min