All’s not well in power and energy sector


    Yet another year, 2012, has gone by. The present government has completed the penultimate year of the current term in office. The government failed to live up to the expectations in improving the power and gas supplies as it pledged. Despite the addition of significant amounts of power and gas to the national grids, the power and energy crises in the country deepened further. Bangladesh will need about 7,500-8,000 MW of electricity to be supplied during the irrigation season and the summer. Even if gas and oil supplies are ensured, it may not be possible to consistently generate more than 6,000 MW.

    A load-shedding-free Bangladesh by 2012 could not be established. Unusually, the country has witnessed a severe shortage of gas supply in the winter. The dry and irrigation season is also seemingly heading for massive electricity load-shedding. The media almost everyday is carrying reports on the messy power and energy situation. The initiative of LNG (liquefied natural gas) import has gone with the wind. Running major power plants on imported coal is also becoming increasingly uncertain.

    One by one all mega projects aimed at enhancing power and gas production and transmission are falling flat. So the government is compelled to extend the lopsided contracts on rental power plants putting the national economy under further pressure.

    Too much was said, but too little could be achieved. So the issue of power and energy supplies will crop up in the next general election. It is not that the government has been nonchalant. It has tried various unsuccessful and a few partially effective action programmes.

    But the best efforts of the government failed to yield any tangible results mostly because of lack of professionalism in project selection and poor implementation management. The government has so far failed miserably in securing energy efficiency. Theft and pilferage of power and gas continues and consequently the demand surpasses the supplies.

    The government could add an additional 3,300 MW of electricity to the national grid in four years by increasing the effective generation capacity to 6,800 MW from 3,500 MW. Another 1,800 MW of electricity is collected from liquid fuel-based rental plants. These contingency plants were contracted out to novice first-timers with a plan to replace them in three years by gas and coal-based power plants.

    But unfortunately due to the prolonged tender procedures and abysmal project management most of the major power plant projects are being implemented two/three years behind the schedule. A few major projects are facing some sort of uncertainty.

    On the other hand, the government could not carry out BMR (balancing, modernisation and rehabilitation) of ageing plants or replace them with fuel-efficient new plants. Hence all these have become a liability both in terms of their financial viability and smooth operation.

    The gas supply shortage also stands in the way of tapping about 500 MW from gas-based power plants. The government’s plan to procure 500 MMCFD LNG for Chittagong has fallen flat. It now appears that the government did not do the required amount of homework and assess feasibility of the LNG import. In consideration of the size of investment as well as technical and financial constraints any LNG import in near future should better be forgotten. The fast-track gas production augmentation also failed to deliver. Only a major increase in gas production was noticed in the Chevron-operated Bibiyana and Jalalabad gas fields. But experts fear that operating these fields at high flow rates might cause rapid depletion of gas soon.

    The Petrobangla and the Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Commpany Limited (BAPEX) created major hypes after every interpretation of the 3D seismic survey unprofessionally by announcing major gas finds at Rashidpur, Koilashtila (both gas and oil) and Titas and a new discovery in Sunetro without drilling and testing. Now one after another bad news keeps coming out. Sunetro is dry and some tiny structures are found in Sundalpur and Sreekail. The small gas pockets are not considered a commercial discovery in the reservoir engineering. Only new wells at the Titas Gas Field may yield some benefits in the near term.

    The Gas Transmission Company Limited (GTCL) under the Petrobangla also made inordinate delay in building the necessary infrastructures for evacuating stranded gas from the source to the demand centre. The GTCL also failed to operate its system professionally. Even the transmission system cannot be operated as per the design due to accumulated condensate at the lowest grid points. Without assessing the actual reserve of gas and the life of gas fields Petrobangla made GTCL invest in the ambitious gas transmission infrastructures like the Jalalabad-Bibiyana-Dhanua pipeline. They ignored experts’ advice on constructing the most essential Bakhrabad-Chittagong Gas Transmission loop line. Failure to import LNG and the absence of required infrastructure for gas transmission from the national grid will just prolong the gas draught in the Ashuganj Gas Compressor in Chittagong. The Ashuganj-Bakhrabad loop line may create availability of additional gas for downstream transmission at the Bakhrabad Gas Field hub. But the Bakhrabad-Chittagong pipeline in its present condition may not transport much of the additional gas to meet the deficit of about 150-200 MMCFD in Chittagong.

    Another major failure of the government is that it is not exploring and exploiting own coal on the silly pretext of not adopting a coal policy. But it is very much possible to professionally regulate and control coal mining in Bangladesh under the mines and minerals act. Still the government is mysteriously remaining indecisive and hesitant about mining the domestic coal. Rather it has pursued without success power generation from imported coal. If mining by applying the most appropriate method could be started in 2009, the country could be ready for mining Phulbari coal by this time and generation of at least 1,000 MW from coal could be in the advanced stage.

    Many have reservations about the success in power generation from imported coal in Bangladesh in the near term, especially at Rampal, Bagerhat, in view of the massive work required on the port channel, the economic viability of power generation from imported coal and the possible adverse impact on the world heritage site Sundarbans. Many have asked the legitimate questions why India did not set up such plants back home.

    Many wonder why India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan did not take up viable initiatives for hydropower generation jointly. Why more interactive co-operation could not be explored in tapping green energy?

    The initiative of power import from India also seems to have run into uncertainty. It is said that the work on gird connectivity may be concluded by July next. India itself has severe power shortage. Though they are talking about availability of 200 MW from India after July next, it will be really interesting to see whether it happens. The Chief Minister of Tripura promised to export 100 MW of power from the Paltana gas-fired plant. But it now appears that despite understandable sincerity of the Tripura CM, the power may not be available.

    The government of Bangladesh undertook many medium-to-large gas and coal-based power projects without assessing the long-term availability of fuel and the capability of entrepreneurs. Some of the initiatives have already fallen flat and more others may meet the same fate soon.

    Let us hope the government with about a year now in office will go for an honest soul-searching why its sincerest efforts to keep its pledges in the power and energy sector could not bring that much improvement. The uncertain power and energy scenario may be a pain in the neck for the Grand Alliance in the next general election. It may overshadow the government’s milestone achievements made elsewhere.

    The writer is an engineer.

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