A high-level government delegation has toured three countries – Indonesia, Australia and South Africa – and submitted a report saying the coal from these countries is suitable for the plant.
Delegation member and Power Cell Director General Mohammad Hossain said: “Because Indian coal is low quality, it was not even mentioned in the project proposal. If Indian coal is used, the power plant will fall. So Indonesian, South African or Australian coal will be used there. Those are of far better quality than Indian coal.”
Indian coal will not be used in the Rampal coal-based power plant because of its low quality, the authorities told the Bangla Tribune’s Shafiqul Islam.
Australian, Indonesian and South African coal contain less sulphur, about 1 to 2 percent and therefore they are more environment-friendly. Indian coal contains 6 to 7 percent sulphur.
In reply to a query, Mohammad Hossain said: “Coal for Rampal will be obtained through a tender process. Suppliers will provide coal according to the terms and conditions of the tender. The government has no hand in this.”
Bangladesh’s environment act bans the import of coal that contains more than 1 percent sulphur.
Asked if coal from the Fulbari coal mine will be used in the plant in the future, he said: “How do we transport coal from Fulbari to Rampal? There’s no waterway. Can it be done by road? Rampal will need 10,000 tonnes of coal every day. So we will need railways and wagons. Do we have that? Can we imagine the cost of laying these lines, getting these wagons and transporting this much coal every day? The whole idea is just fanciful.”
Coal Power Generation Company Managing Director Abul Kashem told Bangla Tribune: “Australian, Indonesian and South African coal are of high quality and much better than Indian coal. Authorities have recommended those kinds of coal for Rampal.”
In the international market, high quality coal is $70 per tonne and low-grade coal costs between $50-60 per tonne.
Importers said coal prices were dropping worldwide and export out of Indonesia and South Africa had increased.
In 2015-16 financial year, 2.3 million tonnes of Indonesian and South African coal was imported through Chittagong port. On the other hand, only about 100,000 tonnes of Indian coal came through the custom stations in Sylhet. In the previous years the amount of Indian coal import was 1.7 to 2 million tonnes.
High prices and low quality were discouraging importers from going to India for coal.
According to the Sylhet Coal Importers Association, Indian coal costs $85 per tonne or around Tk6,700. After import this is sold at Tk7,500. On the other hand, Indonesian and South African coal costs $52 per tonne and after import their price is Tk6,000. Importers said coal from Australia would cost about the same. These low prices are the reason importers are diverting their attention away from Indian coal.
The association said Bangladesh’s annual demand for coal is 4 million tonnes, of which 3 million come from India. Coal is used in brick kilns, tea stalls, re-rolling steel mills and road construction among other purposes.
According to Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology’s chemical engineering department, around 80 to 90 thousand tonnes of coal is extracted from the Barapukuria mine in Dinajpur annually. This coal is used in the state-owned Barapukuria 250-300MW power plant.
In some years, a small amount of surplus coal from Barapukuria is given to local brick kilns. No other coal mine in the country is in production, though there are a growing number of coal-based power plants. Once the 1,360MW Rampal thermal power plant is operational it will require 4.5 million tonnes of coal annually – nearly equal to the current national consumption.