Ensuring access of all citizens to grid power in the 50th year of independence is indeed a milestone achievement. But existence of poor quality of often-interrupted power supply and uncertain energy supply to the people of Western and Southern regions of Bangladesh continues to widen the economic disparity. People in the Rajshahi, Rangpur, Khulna, Barisal and greater Faridpur regions are not getting the benefit of much improved power supply situation. They are deprived of pipeline supply of gas unlike people of Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet divisions. It is a sad part that the people in those regions still suffer from poor quality of power supply, deprived of the pipeline supply of gas or LPG at competitive affordable cost. For relatively weaker and poor energy and power supply to the region, industries have not grown at required pace and the people do not have similar access to employment. Consequently, the standard of living is not as good as in the other parts of the country. It is encouraging to note that Payra in Patuakhali and Rampal in Khulna are being developed as the power generation hubs. But delays in implementation of transmission and distribution facilities still restricting the national grid to deliver quality power on uninterruptible basis. The national gas grid has been extended to Rajshahi, Bogura, Kushtia, Jashore and Khulna to create opportunities for gas supply to all consumers of the regions. Moreover, discovery and development of Shahbajpur Gas Field at Bhola created opportunities for utilizing the gas in the region. Gas availability to national grid has been boosted through import of LNG. But a government decision for not providing pipeline gas supply to domestic use deprives people of Western and Southern region from the benefits of cheaper gas supply. They have to either use electricity or expensive LPG for cooking. In some areas, wood and cow dung are used causing health hazards of rural women. At the same time, people in other areas of gas franchise enjoy authorized and unauthorized use of gas resources. Such disparities must not continue. Sooner or later this will create discontent unless the government either opens provisions for metered gas supply to all or subsidizes LPG price making it competitive to pipeline gas.
Unstable Power Supply
In a recent virtual seminar organized by Energy & Power magazine, industry experts observed that despite a considerable surplus of generation capacity, power supply to Southern and Western region would suffer from poor quality during the ensuing summer. This will happen for constraints in power transmission and distribution system. Of course, the government has realized the deficiencies and have undertaken some projects for improving the situation. But it may take up to 2025 for ensuring quality power supply to all on uninterruptible basis. Till such time, the government ministers must not appear in the talk shows in media as the present situation also prove incompetence of power sector planners and operators. The PGCB has failed to keep pace with power generation works of public and private sector companies. Distribution utilities have, however, engaged in major system upgrade and improvement. The first plant of 1,320MW capacity Payra power project has started operation, but for the failure of PGCB in creating required transmission facility even not more than 600-700MW power can be evacuated now. It is surprising that a contingent planning was not done for distributing the generated power in the region. Everyone knew that Payra – Gopalganj - Aminbazar 400 KV power transmission line can only be completed after completion of Padma Multipurpose bridge. For restricted supply of coal from Barapukuria mine, the power generation capacity of mine-mouth power plants cannot be fully utilized. Hopefully, the required evacuation facility from Rooppur nuclear power plant would be completed on time.
WRIP was a Lost Opportunity
The discovery of Shahbajpur gas field at Bhola has created an opportunity for utilizing this gas in Barisal and Khulna region. UNOCAL in 1999 had proposed to implement Western Region Integrated Project (WRIP) for developing Shahbajpur gas field, construct 120 KM long 20 inches Shahbajpur (Bhola) - Digholia (Khulna) cross-country gas transmission pipeline, set up three power plants (60MW at Bhola, 100MW at Barishal and 300MW at Khulna). Various required contracts like PSC, GPSA, PPA, IA were successfully negotiated, pipeline ROW was finalized. But at the matured stage, the government in 2000 failed to take required political decision. If implemented, the WRIP could have revolutionized energy portfolio of the region. Power and gas supply situation in greater Barisal and Khulna regions could be much better addressed by 2003 if the WRIP could be implemented. The government in 2021 remains in a dilemma about effective utilization of Shahbajpur gas. The WRIP was definitely a lost opportunity.
Not Mining Coal is Another Disparity
Greater Rangpur and Dinajpur possess five discovered mines of superior quality coal. Bangabandhu had a vision for exploiting mineral resources of Northern region. But after his sudden demise, all governments, including the present government, have miserably failed in taking appropriate decision of mining coal and economically utilizing the resource for energy generation. Mining is continuing from Barapukria mine only using Long Wall Top Caving (LWTC) method though this is an ideal mine for open pit mining. Phulbari is another mine ready with all studies done for mining for several years. Technical experts found no reasons for disagreeing with mining methods. But for misguidance by an opportunist group confuses the government in taking right decision of mining. Coal from own mines can generate up to 10,000MW power for 50 years. There are proven technologies for addressing all impacts of mining. Own coal, in experts’ opinion, is the best fuel option for power generation in Bangladesh. Mining of coal can revolutionize energy and economic scenario of Northern and Southern regions of the country.
Gas to Rajshahi, Rangpur, and Khulna Regions Must Be Economically Utilized
The gas system has been extended to the regions except for Rangpur. By the middle of 2022, gas should be reaching Rangpur as well. Gas transmission pipeline will also be constructed along Padma Bridge for greater Faridpur region. The government can start supplying gas to industries in the region more expeditiously. If the decision of not supplying pipeline gas for domestic use is fixed and firm, it must apply to entire Bangladesh. Even the gas supply to present domestic consumers should be phased out replacing with LPG in three years. It is unethical that residents of gas franchise would spent Tk 600 for metered gas using double burner while people of Southern and Western region would have to spend Tk 2000 for LPG. Even the LPG use is not safe. We frequently get the news of LPG fire. The government must devise ways for making LPG price competitive to pipeline gas and educate all users for safe use of gas.
Bangladesh is a small country though 170 million people live here. The government has done huge works in improving power and energy supply in 12 years since 2009. But rational thinking and professional management of well-conceived projects can create parity in power and energy supply to all citizens of Bangladesh. Only better supply security of energy and power can ensure balanced economic development across Bangladesh and Bangabandhu’s vision of Golden Bengal can be achieved.