Only one of the 19 planned large coal-based plants is expected to start generating power within stipulated deadline, while the rest are lagging far behind mainly due to fund crunch and poor planning.
Lack of efficient manpower and complications over the acquisition of land required are to blame for the delay in implementing the projects with a combined capacity of 19,005 megawatt (MW), Power Division officials said.
The sluggishness continues despite the government’s target to generate around 20,000MW of electricity from coal-fired power projects by 2030 using supercritical and ultra-supercritical technologies.
Six of the projects are under the public sector, seven under joint venture government to government initiatives and the rest under private or independent power producer (IPP) arrangements.
Imported coal will be used for power generation in all the plants. They were planned eight years ago and aimed to start production between 2016 and 2025.
Only the 1,320MW capacity power plant in Payra which is being implemented by the Bangladesh-China Power Company Ltd (BCPCL), a joint venture of Chinese power company CMC and Bangladesh’s North-West Power Generation Company Ltd, is likely to start power generation on time.
According to a Power Division official, the public sector plants will add an ambitious 7,560MW while the joint venture and the private projects 8,500MW and 2,945MW respectively to the national grid.
Preferring anonymity, he also said: “Except for the 1,320 MW public sector plant in Payra, Patuakhali, the remaining ones will need another four to 10 years to start power generation.”
The two projects with a comparatively better progress rate are the joint venture 1,320MW Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant in Rampal and the state-owned 1,200MW Matarbari Power Plant in Cox’s Bazar, he added.
The Matarbari plant is a top priority government scheme being implemented by the Coal Power Generation Company of Bangladesh Limited with funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The remaining 16 projects have seen little progress since their initial signing agreements MoUs between the government and its private and public sector joint venture partners.
Currently, daily power production in the country is 8,000MW against a demand of 8,500MW while the demand for electricity peaks to 12,000MW during summer.
Reasons that delayed two major projects
After the Awami League-led government assumed office in 2009, it took measures for building coal-based power plants to meet the growing demand for electricity.
It took up the first joint venture project with India to build the Rampal power plant, which was delayed in order to confirm a loan deal.
On the other hand, the terrorist attack in Holey Artisan Cafe in Dhaka in 2016 slowed down the progress of the 1,200MW Matarbari plant.
Source for coal import yet to be finalized
In an August 2013 report, a high-powered committee of the Power Division had recommended importing coal from South Africa, Australia and Indonesia for the public and private sectors for use in the coal-fired power plants.
It also suggested that Mozambique be kept under consideration as the African country was thinking about exporting its coal.
Entrepreneurs have not settled on source countries yet.
The measures for constructing a separate jetty for vessels carrying imported coal and transporting the fuel to the project sites have not been taken as yet.
‘Projects dependent on foreign consultants’
Professor Ijaz Hossain of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) said several projects failed to progress as expected because of poor planning, fund shortage and crisis of skilled manpower.
Those, who are working in the projects, are largely dependent on foreign consultants, the Buet teacher said.
“This is all happening since Bangladesh does not have a large coal-fired power plant. Hence insufficient knowledge, skill and experience are hindering the projects,” he said.
“Other than two to three projects, I fear that most of them will fail their deadlines,” he added.
Projects under government initiative
The 250MW Barapukuria thermal power plant in Dinajpur is the only operational government-owned coal-based power plant being run by the Power Development Board (PDB), where the Barapukuria Coal Mining Company Limited supplies coal.
PDB has recently started commissioning of the third unit (275MW) of the plant.
As per the government’s plan, two 1,320MW plants were supposed to be built by the PDB at Moheskhali in Cox’s Bazar, a 1200MW plant by the Coal Power Generation Company of Bangladesh Limited (CPGCBL) in Cox’s Bazar, a 1,320MW plant and a 1,200MW plant by Ashuganj Power Station Company Ltd (APSCL) in Patuakhali and the northern region respectively, and a 1,200MW plant by the Electricity Generation Company of Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar.
The Matarbari power plant was primarily supposed to start power generation in 2021, the time frame was later extended by a year.
Md Abul Kasem, managing director of the CPGCBL that owns the Matarbari plant, said: “So far, 18% of the project’s construction has been completed. We have been trying our level best.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to lay the foundation stone for the project on January 25.
When contacted, APSCL Managing Director Engr AMM Sazzadur Rahman said: “We are yet to complete the land acquisition for the two power plant projects, with the one for the northern districts seeing little progress.”
The joint venture projects
Among the seven joint venture projects, the 1,320MW Maitree plant was initiated by the PDB and Indian state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd in 2010.
Only 14km off the Sundarbans, the project is the first one in Bagerhat which was supposed to start producing power from 2016.
Afterwards, 2018 was set for it to go into power generation, but that too was deferred until March, 2021.
Meanwhile, the PDB and Malaysia’s consortium of Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) and Powertek Energy Sdn Bhd (PB) teamed up for the 1,320 MW Matarbari coal-based power plant in Moheshkhali.
The PDB and Korea Electric Power Corporation had inked an MoU for a 1,320 MW coal-fired power plant at Anwara upazila of Chittagong.
Rural Power Company Limited (RPCL) with Chinese state-owned Norinco International Ltd will build a 1320 MW coal-based plant in Patuakhali.
In addition, the BCPCL, a joint venture of Bangladesh and China, is implementing the Payra project at a cost of about $2bn.
BCPCL Managing Director AM Khurshedul Alam said their plant is likely to be the first one to go into operation.
“The plant will have two units. The first unit will be operational in April 2019 and the second one in October the same year,” he further said.
The Coal Power Generation Company of Bangladesh Limited (CPGCBL) and the Japanese firm- Sumitomo Corporation- has started a 1,200 MW power plant in Matarbari.
The state-owned CPGCBL is also engaged in a joint venture with Singapore’s Sembcorp to construct the 700MW coal-based Kohelia power plant in Matarbari of Cox’s Bazar.
Projects under the private sector
Local conglomerate Orion Group was supposed to build four projects with a total capacity 1,721 MW in Meghnaghat of Narayganj, and Chittagong. But, their fate is still hanging in the balance when it comes to power generation.
Previously, Orion Group took up five projects, but canceled a proposed 565MW project in Rampal of Bagerhat.
On the other hand, Chittagong-based S Alam Group was expected to build two plants, each with a 612 MW capacity, in the district’s Banshkhali upazila.
The firm has started its work with two Chinese companies – SEPCO-3 Electric Power Construction Corporation and HTG – regarding the construction of the plants.
Interestingly, the Power Division has no idea about when the six private sector plants will begin generating power. However, the project officials claimed they could do so by 2024.
Md Abul Kashem, executive director of the S Alam group’s project called SS Power-1 Limited, told the Dhaka Tribune that their project work was progressing.
“Land filling for the project has already been completed, but the issue of the project funding is still unresolved,” he added.