5th January 2021
Prof Dr. Firoz Alam

Over 100 hundred years ago in October 1917 after the Bolshevik socialist revolution in Russia, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin signed two decrees: first was “Power to the Proletariat (workers)” and second was “Electrification to Russia”. Many people wondered about Lenin’s action on second decree “Electrification to Russia” instead of the “Nationalisation of Industries”. The reason was very clear to him that without the electricity or power, Russia could not be industrialised, and the mass employment would not be possible to create. After 92 years since Bolshevik revolution, our far sighted and visionary leader Sheikh Hasina assuming power as Prime Minister in 2009 comprehendeded that without power sector development, Bangladesh would not be able to eliminate poverty, promote industrialisation, create mass employment, economic and social development. Furthermore, power generation exclusively by natural gas makes Bangladesh extremely vulnerable in terms of energy security and depriving gas supply to vital industrial sectors including fertilizer industries. Under her wise leadership, the nation’s first comprehensive Power Sector Master Plan 2010 (modified further in 2016) with a power generation roadmap till 2041 was developed. As per the Master plan, the country needs to utilise low cost energy such as indigenous, as well as, imported coal to generate at least 35% of the total power. This is in line with developed and emerging countries’ power generation energy portfolios. The only concern was the environmental pollution of coal fired power plant. To minimise the impact, Bangladesh adopted policy to use state-of-the-art high efficiency super critical (38-40%) or ultra super critical (more than 42%) thermal power plants bypassing traditional low thermal efficiency sub critical (30-35%) technology to minimise the environmental pollution. As part of the Master Plan, Bangladesh initiated several large capacity coal fired power plants in three strategic locations (Payra, Materbari and Rampal). Among all large power plants, Payra Power Plant has progressed well and started commercial production this year. It is a 50:50 joint venture company of state-owned “North West Power Generation Company Ltd (NWPGCL)” and China Machinery Company (CMC). Currently it is Bangladesh’s largest power plant with 1,320 MW (2 units x 660 MW each) installed capacity. The power plant is based on 100% imported coal. Officially, it is known as “Bangladesh China Power Company Private Ltd”, created, and registered in October 2014, signed equipment procurement contract (EPC) in March 2016, and completed construction of both units in late December 2019. The Units 1 and 2 were synchronised with the grid in January and August 2020, respectively. The whole process (company formation, registration, site selection, environmental impact assessment, finance arrangement, land acquisition, site development, access development, rehabilitation and resettlement of affected people, power plant construction, coal storage (domes) facilities, coal handling jetty and conveyer system construction, etc) was completed within five and half years. This is a record for any developing/emerging country and a success story for any large projects in Bangladesh.


Due to my research interest in energy and power, I have been closely following the development of Payra Power Plant since 2014. Although I am a frequent visitor to the subcontinent, I was not able to visit Payra until December 2019. Along with two of my colleagues who are international experts in thermal power plant, we visited Payra. Our objectives were to see (from engineering point of view) the construction quality of major components/sections as well as the coal unloading jetty and associated infrastructures. By any standard, the Payra Power Plant project is a success story based on our observations on following reasons:


a) Project Implementation Plan and Execution: Selection of young engineering and business graduates based on skills, commitment, and ability to work hard from various educational institutions across the nation without giving preferences to any particular educational institution.  These young graduates possess ‘can do’ and learning attitudes, and ready to take the responsibility and move forward. Unlike many other mega projects in Bangladesh, a series of implementation tasks were undertaken simultaneously or parallelly. For example, consultation with local people, land acquisition, and feasibility, environmental impact assessment (EIA) were undertaken in parallel to accelerate the project implementation. Similarly, land development, tender documentation, evaluation of equipment purchase contracts (EPCs) were also completed simultaneously. The formation of project management team led by the chief executive was most appropriate.  Another important feature of Payra project was the condition for the suppliers/contractors to render their services/ undertake activities worth 15% of the project cost from their own resources without any advance payment so that bureaucratic lengthy approval processes could not slow down or stop the project activities. The other was the progress payment to contractors based on achieving specified milestones.  


b) Power Plant Construction Quality: The Payra power plant is well designed, constructed and commissioned with high level of professionalism. Selection of main components, workmanship and their operation and maintenance layout are world class. Selection of boiler for low to medium heating value coal is appropriate. This will allow using high heating value coal if available. The layout of Operation Room enables Bangladeshi and Chinese Engineers/ operators to sit side by side to operate the power plant and learn from each other. This way skills will be transferred from Chinese engineers to Bangladeshi engineers. Coal unloading through fully closed conveyer belt from the jetty to coal domes is an excellent choice. This minimises the surrounding soil and air contamination by flying coal and coal dust. The layout of jetty and unloading cranes along with their grabs look reasonable. However, in future, the coal unloading through grabs may need to be modified by introducing automatic unloading system.


c) Rehabilitation and Resettlement: The planning and execution of rehabilitation and resettlement for affected people were undertaken meticulously. I have visited resettlement areas and spoke to some rehabilitees (male and female). They expressed their satisfaction with the rehabilitation and various facilities. A total of 130 families (609) people were affected and rehabilitated in the resettlement area. One house per family was provided. The settlement area has a health and community centre, two ponds, a mosque, and most importantly a vocational school “Bangladesh-China Technical Institute”. The vocational school for the affected people offers three trades (Electrical Maintenance works, General Mechanics, Computer and Information Technology) along with plans for foreign language courses (English, Arabic, Bahasa Malaysia, and Mandarin). Forty-eight (48) students (nearly 20% of them are girls) have already enrolled in vocational courses. I am certain that it would be the game changer for their future as with these technical skills they will be able to get employment locally, nationally, and abroad. This endeavour by Bangladesh China Power Company Limited is highly commendable and example for all.  


The development of Payra Power Plant has had tremendous economic, social, cultural, and infrastructural impact on local people and the region. This remote, difficult to access area and its highly socio-economically disadvantaged people are greatly being benefitted by the Payra Power Plant. The economic impact is enormous. In the construction phase, nearly 10,000 people including about 4,000 Chinese nationals were involved. A significant number of Bangladeshi workers were from local area. Roads, bridges, power transmission and distribution infrastructures, and power access to local people are being undertaken. These are vital for the development of central southern Bangladesh.


Despite having enviable achievements, Payra Power Plant needs to overcome some challenges.


As mentioned earlier, Payra Power Plant is fully dependent on imported coal. It needs annually for its two units nearly 3.3 million tons coal (based on 42% thermal efficiency due to ultra super critical technology, plant load factor 65% and coal heating value 4,700 kcal/kg or 19,660 kJ/kg) for the next 40 to 60 years.  If the lower medium heating value (5,475 kcal/kg or 22,902 kJ/kg) is used instead of currently used low heating value (4,700 kcal/kg or 19,660 kJ/kg) coal, Payra Power Plant would require approximately 2.8 million tons coal (a net savings of 0.5 million tons annually). The boiler at Payra Power Plant has been designed for heating value ranging from 4,144 kcal/kg (17,334 kJ/kg) to 5,475 kcal/kg (22,902 kJ/kg). If the boiler was designed to deal with 6,700 kcal/kg instead of current maximum 5,475 kcal/kg heating value coal, the plant would require around 2.3 million tons coal annually. A net annual savings could be 1.0 million tons. The use of high heating value coal is extremely important when coal unloading is a serious issue due to low draft at Payra Port’s Rabnabad channel as well as greenhouse gas emission (CO2) point of view. In fact, high heating value coal generates less CO2 emission using even sub critical boiler technology than an ultra super critical boiler technology for the same amount power production. Coal unloading jetty is located around 20 km upstream from the shallow coastal front. The average draft is around 5 to 6 m in Rabnabad channel. Furthermore, continuous alluvial siltation from the upstream due to geomorphological conditions of three mighty rivers: the Ganges (Padma), Brahmaputra (Jamuna) and Meghna will require continuous (not off and on maintenance) dredging to keep the river/channel navigable, which is almost fighting against mother nature. Technologically it is possible but economically it will cost a fortune. A small handy max ship can carry from 25,000 to 35,000 tons coal for which the ship needs a minimum 8 m draft. The length and width of such ship are approximately 120 m and 28 m respectively. Specially designed handy max ship with larger width can reduce the required draft to 6 m which can easily ply through the Rabnabad channel. As the Power Plant needs coal for the next 40 to 60 years, consideration for such specially designed ships is worthwhile. The giant mining and resources companies such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto possess such specially designed ships for moving resources through shallow draft channels/rivers. The cost of a handy max ship is around 30 to 35 million US dollars. Our oceangoing ship builders can brainstorm on it. It is beyond doubt that Matarbari deep seaport will be a tremendous help, but it will not be handy till 2025.  As a rule of thumb, before planning to have a coal fired thermal power plant, two things must be determined: a) coal sourcing origins/locations/countries and coal quality (heating value, impurities, etc.) for the entire operational life of the power plant, and b) designing the boiler as per the heating value of coal, impurities and source origins. Boiler cannot be designed based on any coals from anywhere. Therefore, most coal fired power plants generally are located at the mine mouth to avoid the variation of coal quality.   


Another challenge Payra Power Plant like any other large power plants in Bangladesh that needs to overcome how to evacuate power from the power plant to the load centre(s). One of the biggest hinderances is the inability to construct high voltage transmission lines from Payra to the nation’s largest load centre Dhaka and its surroundings. The nearest load centre is Khulna, Jessore, Kushtia, Faridpur and Barisal. Unfortunately, till now neither Dhaka nor any other load centres except Barisal are connected to Payra for power evacuation. The transmission infrastructures should have been completed before the completion of power plant so that the testing and commissioning could be done in real life scenario. Currently a 400 kV transmission line was constructed up to Gopalganj which will be later extended to Dhaka (will take some time) and a 230 kV line to Patuakhali which is currently being constructed by Payra Power Plant itself. Inability to evacuate power from Payra will significantly restrict its full plant factor and wastage of country’s valuable resources. It would be prudent to build two parallel 400 kV and 765 kV national high voltage transmission backbones connecting all major load centres with generation hubs (Payra, Materbari, Rampal, Rooppur, etc.). As we are planning to increase power import from India, it would be highly beneficial to synchronise our high voltage transmission lines with Indian and Bhutanese (and later Nepalese) high voltage transmission backbones. India’s national high voltage transmission is 765 kV. For example, Pakistan’s national transmission backbone is 500 kV. As a rule of thumb, for each km transmission distance, at least 1 kV needs to be increased to minimise the transmission loss especially for sub-tropical country like Bangladesh. We must start 400 kV and 765 kV transmission lines connecting Rooppur, Martarbari, Rampal and Payra with major load centres (Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Comilla, Jessore, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Rangpaur and all existing and future export processing zones (EPZs) across the country. Nuclear power plant generally runs at a plant factor of 92%. It would be disastrous if we cannot evacuate power from Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (2 x 1200 MW = 2,400 MW) once it goes to operation by 2024/2025.


In a nutshell, Payra Power Plant is a national benchmark especially for its remarkable planning to construction and commissioning in a short time span, world class rehabilitation and resettlement of affected people. Medium and high heating value coal should be used to reduce required import volume and greenhouse emission. Lateral and out of box thinking is required to solve low draft difficulties for coal import at Payra. Its resettlement project is a national benchmark model that can be replicated nationally for all projects. The Payra resettlement model can also be used for other emerging and developing nations. The skills recruitment model used for Payra should also be used for other power projects in Bangladesh. High voltage power evacuation transmission lines must be constructed before the physical completion of power plants. The mistake that was made for Payra should not be repeated for Rooppur, Materbari, Rampal and other major power producing hubs. Additionally, our high voltage transmission lines need to be well synchronised with neighbouring India, Bhutan and Nepal for bilateral and regional power trade or exchange.

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