Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation, also known as Petrobangla, wants to form a joint venture with separate companies operating coalfields in three foreign countries, to import coal for Bangladesh's coal-fired power plants.
An official of the state-owned energy company, requesting anonymity, said Bangladesh may enter into joint ventures with coal-based power plants in Indonesia, Australia and South Africa by taking lease of the coalfields or by operating them through investment.
A feasibility study will be conducted in this regard, leading to a final decision over the project.
“By operating coalfields, it is possible to import coal from these countries and use it to run several under-construction power plants in Bangladesh,” the Petrobangla source said.
The move came after private and public power generation companies also began contacting the coal-rich countries over the possibility of importing coal to fire the plants they are constructing.
An official of a private power generation company said they want to import coal in the same way that it already imports its own oil for its oil-based private power plants. “We will construct a power plant, a jetty for imported coal, coal storage facilities, electrification and transmission facilities, and separate roadways,” he said.
Professor Dr Ijaz Hossain of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) warned of “conflict among the organisations concerned” if the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources did not decide on who to allow for coal imports.
“The government needs proper planning, monitoring and supervising capacity to import coal for the ongoing power plant projects,” he said. “In order to do so, the government's organisations need to coordinate among themselves. A lack of internal coordination will greatly will hamper the government's plan.”
Petrobangla took the decision to conduct a feasibility study on coal imports after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signalled her approval following a visit to the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources in April 2015.
Petrobangla Chairman Abul Mansur Md Faizullah said: “We are planning to complete the directive the premier gave us. The final decision over the matter, however, is yet to be taken.”
Under the Power Sector Master Plan, the government is aiming to produce 24,000MW of electricity by 2021 and 39,000MW by 2030. Of the final figure, around 20,000MW will come from coal.
“[By] importing coal from other countries, we can shoulder the responsibility fully rather than give it to any other organisation,” a Petrobangla official said, seeking anonymity. “We have already visited so many countries to import coal. If we import coal, it will be more cost-effective.”
In an August 2013 report, a high-powered committee of the Power Division recommended importing coal from South Africa, Australia and Indonesia for the public and private sectors to use in the proposed coal-fired power plants.
It also suggested that Mozambique be kept under consideration as the African country was considering whether to export its coal.
The Power Division had formed the five-member committee to review an earlier report prepared by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS). It focused on coal exploration, coal imports and transportation, and the coal-fired power plants likely to be installed in four locations of Bangladesh.
The report highlighted all relevant aspects including sourcing of coal, the potential risk of accidents, coal transportation, expenditures, sea ports, inland river routes and coal ash.
The committee estimated the import price per ton of coal at $140, $152 and $132 for the proposed plants in Khulna, Chittagong and Maheskhali, respectively. The price included freight charges and taxes.
The under-constitution coal-fired power plants
In the most controversial of the new projects, the Bangladesh Power Development Board (PDB) and Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company (Pvt) Ltd (BIFPCL) is set to begin work on a 1320 MW coal-based plant at Rampal upazila in Bagerhat. The “Maitree Super Thermal Power Project” is to be built only around 20km away from the Sundarbans world heritage site.
Meanwhile, state-owned Coal Power Generation Company Bangladesh Limited (CPGCBL) is building a 1,200MW coal-based power plant using funds from Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) at Matarbari in Cox’s Bazar.
Also at Matarbari, CPGCBL will build a 700MW power plant in a joint venture with Singaporean company Sembcorp.
The government-owned North-West Power Generation Company Limited and Chinese Power Company are ready to set up a 1,320MW coal-based power plant in Kalapara upazila of Patuakhali.
In Banshkhali of Chittagong, a joint venture of Bangladesh’s S Alam Group and two Chinese companies – SEPCO-3 Electric Power Construction Corporation and HTG – will build a power plant with a net capacity of 1,224MW.
Finally, Orion Group and two foreign companies are jointly constructing a 635MW coal–based ultra-supercritical thermal power plant in Gazaria upazila of Munshiganj.