Getting electricity to everyone in the country is one of Awami League’s election promises. In its 2014 manifesto, the party set a deadline of five years to accomplish this task.
Although the government appears to have made significant progress in the direction of hundred percent electrification, it is unclear if the goal will be achieved by 2018.
In a speech made in a special book published on the occasion of National Power and Energy Week 2016, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hoped that they would be able to provide electricity to every home by 2021.
However, the State Minister for Power Nasrul Hamid maintains that it can be done by 2018. The minister reiterated this in a seminar at Biduyt Bhaban in the city on August 19.
Critics are not convinced. Consumers Association of Bangladesh Energy Adviser Prof M Shamsul Alam said the government’s statements did not match the actual progress.
“This is nothing but political stunt. There is no similarity between the statements and the progress made in the reality. We expect the government to meet the target to make satisfactory developments,” he said.
The Rural Electrification Board (REB) is playing the key role between six distribution agencies and companies to accomplish the task. They have already implemented several projects and a number of projects are ongoing.
Officials and contractors related to REB project implementation said around 47% of the consumers were getting electricity when the government took charge in 2009.
According to REB, around 80% of the population now avails electricity. However, 80% coverage does not mean that 80% of the country is connected to the grid in terms of area.
There are 491 upazilas in the country; three of them are islands that can only be connected to the grid at a massive cost. So REB’s target is to get power to 488 upazilas.
Out of 488 upazilas, only 16 upazilas have electricity connections in their entire areas. There are 10 other upazilas where this has been accomplished, which the prime minister was scheduled to inaugurate on August 20, but this was cancelled due to floods.
REB says another 35 upazilas are now ready to launch full electrification. By December 2017, the REB is expecting to add another 50 upazilas to this list.
Put together, all of these only covers 111 upazilas or less than one fourth of the target upazilas.
Officials said the 2021 target would be more appropriate considering the prevailing status of the project.
Power contractors remarked that whereas it had taken 39 years to bring electricity to half of the country’s upazilas the government is trying to connect the remaining half in 10 years, which is a difficult task.
After the government took power, there was a project for 1.8 million consumers which was delayed for two years. In addition, four other projects taken for divisional areas also saw delays, which are core reasons for the current situation, officials said.
Lack of raw materials used for the task, manpower crisis and difficulties in assigning people for the projects led to this situation.
Power Division officials who wished to remain anonymous, said much of the progress in rural electrification was attributable to the current REB Chairman Moin Uddin, who they described as a hard-working and sincere official. But the officials said his work was bogged down by many incompetent and insincere officials in REB and the Palli Bidyut Samity.
The government took a number of projects for supply of electricity, but the volume of transmission, distribution lines and sub-stations was insufficient to meet the target. There is also a crisis in power production, leading to uncertainty in meeting the target.
An official of REB seeking anonymity said there were at least 15 Upazilas that REB cannot bring under 100% electrification by 2020 due to lack of progress of work.
“If we can bring 90% of the villages under electrification by 2018, that would also be a major success,” REB Chairman Maj Gen Moin Uddin told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We are expecting to bring rest of the upazilas by bringing 70-80% of them under electrification and that would be a major satisfaction for the consumers, also a success for us,” he added.
He said that places that were difficult to connect to the grid would have mini-grids with renewable energy as source.
To achieve the goal, REB needs to establish over 10 million new power connections and extend distribution lines by around 100,000 km.
Maj Gen Moin Uddin said to achieve the target by 2018, three years earlier than the previous target, is a big challenge.
According to estimates, by 2021 the number of power consumers will raise from 9.7 million to 23 million, an increase of almost 230%. The peak demand will rise from 4,500MW to 9,200MW, an increase of 100%.
“At present, REB is running 16 consumer connection projects estimated to end by 2019. In order to implement the 2021 target we are going to take on seven new projects,” the REB chairman said.
Established in 1977 to ensure rural people’s access to electricity, REB has been working in association with 80 Palli Bidyut Samitys.
State Minister for Power Nasrul Hamid said: “We are hopeful about doing this by 2018. But it may take more time. It is not a fault if we miss the deadline.”