It was in the afternoon of 15 January 2021 when we arrived at the Dhankhali village of Kalapara Upazila of Patuakhali district. The Payra coal fired power plant gate was there. On our way we travelled through the six-lane link road under construction that has been connecting the Patuakhali-Payra port highway and the Payra coal-fired power plant. The road builders had been busy there with their construction works. The surveyors were busy measuring the elevation levels at the Tiakhali bridge site. They were taking measurements to help building a second bridge to connect the new road and the Payra power hub.
In the planned Payra power hub, the Unit-1 of the Payra 1,320MW coal fired power plant commenced its commercial operations in April 2020 (660MW) and the Unit-2 (660MW) in August 2020. The construction and commissioning of the largest, to date, power plant in the country has set a record in the country for completing the huge construction works within its stipulated time without compromising on quality. It has managed to accomplish the power plant construction and commissioning works along with its coal import terminal on the Rabnabad channel, huge networks of covered conveyor belts and covered coal yards within the scheduled four years’ time. The phase-2 Payra 1,320MW coal fired power plant has initiated its construction works near the power plants in operation. A separate set of LNG-based power plants with 3,600MW would be built in the coal fired power plants’ complex. Also a 50MW wind farm (turbines) is set to be installed in the periphery of the Payra Power plants within next two years. Rural Power Company of Bangladesh and Chinese Norinco Joint Venture have been progressing their 1,320MW coal based power plant construction works at the neighboring ground on the bank of Rabnabad channel. Indeed, the remote Dhankhali village surrounded by three rivers and farmlands have been experiencing unprecedented construction activities, major equipment and machinery installation works, heavy vehicles movement and a lot of business activities.
The Payra power plant operates on import coal. The plant location is unique as the waterways enable easy transportation of coal from Indonesia (via transshipment). Despite the power plant’s dependence on import coal, the Payra plant delivers power to the national grid at a cost of Taka6.40 per unit with a fuel cost of Taka 2.5/unit. The low fuel cost (coal) so far supports cheaper power delivery compared to power generated with import LNG and liquid fuel. The power plant’s Managing Director Engineer Khurshedul Alam considers that the cost of fuel at Payra will be reduced further, once the Payra port will complete its dredging works and enable large coal ships to berth at the port.
Since commissioning, Payra power plant has been generating power from its one (660MW) unit and delivering the power to the national grid (the upgradation of the grid is ongoing and cannot evacuate more power from Payra than the present generation). We visited the coal terminal adjacent to the Payra power plant and observed that two 6,000 tonne capacity coal carrying vessels had been unloading coal at the terminal jetty. The coal terminal equipped with a number of crane guided grabs had been busy with unloading coal for the power plant.
One unit of the power plant at the Payra plant in operation consumes nearly 6,000 tonnes of coal daily. The Rabnabad channel (near Payra power plant) has draft limitations that inhibits movement of larger coal carrying ships (requiring at least 12 m draft) capable to travel though the ocean. Therefore, the Payra power plant has to arrange a fleet of 6,000 tonne capacity barges (requiring significantly less draft) to transship coal from the mother vessel anchored at the outer anchorage of the Bay of Bengal to deliver coal at the plant site jetty. Coal unloading facilities and a series of covered conveyor belts help delivering coal to the plants’ covered coal yards. The power plant boilers are getting fuel coal supply uninterrupted so far. The Payra power plant authority (Bangladesh China Power Company Ltd. (BCPCL), a joint venture company under the North West Power Generation Company of Bangladesh and Chinese CMC) has secured a 10-year term coal delivery contract with an Indonesian coal mine P. T. Bayan Resources for trouble free coal delivery.
BCPCL has been conscious on the social impacts of the major construction works from the very conceptual stage of the power plant development. The project affected 130 families have been rehabilitated at the model rehabilitation village called ‘Swapner Thikana’ near the plant boundary area. In addition, BPCL has established the Bangladesh China Technical Institute and bears all expenses for the institute for securing quality education for its students. Bangladesh China Technical Institute’s principal, Mr. Abdus Salam was explaining to us that the institute so far accommodated 38 boys and 10 girls from the locality for a 2-year vocational training course on electrical maintenance works, general mechanics, computer and information technology. There are six teachers fully devoted to their jobs at the institute. The students have been getting free education at the institute. The rehabilitation village and education facilities are addition to the direct financial compensation packages paid to the project affected people for the land and other properties sacrificed for the nationally important project.
The industrial establishments, residential and office complexes, nearby villages of the Payra Power Plant have almost no traces of dust and gaseous or water pollution. The plant’s environment, health and safety manager Ms. Masuda Parvin showed us the water treatment facilities, electrostatic precipitator (ESP) and Flue Gas Desulfurization plants (FGD) installed in the plant area. She explained that the plant had been operating with the latest Ultra-Super Critical Technology which ensured higher thermal efficiency and reduced fuel requirements for the plant. As a result, the plant releases minimum dust and emission gases carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, oxides of sulfur. The plants flue gas travels through ESP and FGD plants installed adjacent to the power plant boilers prior to its release in the atmosphere through the stake with 220 m height. The ESP unit captures effectively 99% dust and the FGD plant removes 93% of the oxides of sulfur which might come out of the boiler.
The plant boiler generates flue gas, 90% fly ash and 10% bottom ash as a result of burning coal. As the plant has been importing coal from Indonesia with minimum sulfur (0.3-0.53%) and ash (4-7%) with calorific value of 5050 [WU1] kcal/kg, the total ash and sulfur discharge from the power plant remains very low. The Payra power plant has been earning additional revenue by selling its waste products fly ash and gypsum (processed products at the plant site using the oxides of sulfur at the FGD plant) to the cement manufacturers. A very small amount of bottom ash released from the plant boiler are carried and dumped at the plant’s designated ash pond or sold to interested local buyers (mainly brick makers).
The automatic devices installed at different locations of the power plant have been monitoring the real time emission air and water quality information and demonstrate them at the different offices including at the Department of Environment. Officials from the Department of Environment (DoE) in Barisal and in Dhaka offices confirmed us that they had been receiving online real time emission data from the Payra Power Plant and the plant so far had been complying its environmental obligations.
While we visited the Payra power plants’ control room, we saw that a set of young and energetic engineers (both Chinese and Bangladeshi) have been busy with plant operations in front of several large electronic display screens. Those display screens had been demonstrating the plants’ real time state of activities and operational parameters. The relaxed attitudes of the young engineers at the control panel showed confidence that the plant listens their command. Managing Director of BCPCL informed us that the 5-year term operational and maintenance contract with the Chinese company incorporated the provision for joint plant operation and maintenance for Payra. Every year 20% of the Chinese workforce from the plant operations and maintenance works would be reduced and Bangladeshi engineers participation would increase accordingly. Thus, within this 5-year period, the technology transfer for the Payra power plant would be completed and the local engineers could gain sufficient experience to seamlessly operate the Payra power plant operations in the future.
The Payra coal fired 2,640MW power plant (4x660 units once Phase 2 construction will be completed) and RPCL-Norinco 1,320MW for their operations in full capacity together will require approximately 40,000 tonne coal supply daily. The coal transportation channel Rabnabad will face serious traffic jam to accommodate the small coal carrying small vessels for such a big volume of coal transportation. So far Payra port has not started its dredging operations to make the port functional for large ships. Unless the Payra port completes it dredging and maintains its draft levels at 16 meters to accommodate large (60,000-80,000 tonne carrying capacity ships) coal transportation ships, the coal transportation problems will multiply.
In addition, the power plants fully dependent on import source of coal should secure multiple long term upfront coal supply contracts (both with the coal mines and the coal transportation companies). Although dependence on coal in the USA and in Europe has been reducing but thermal coal demands for Asia Pacific region including in China and India will continue to grow in next decade. The International Energy Association considers that the drop in coal demands in the USA and Europe will be surpassed by the Asian demands. Hence, upfront long-term coal supply contracts may help import based coal power companies in Bangladesh from fuel price shock and supply security in the spot markets. Mushfiqur Rahman, mining engineer writes on energy and environment issues.