19th April 2021
Ali Kawsar Muhammad Firoz

Opportunities for private sector investments should be opened in the transmission segment of power value chain for making this more efficient through expeditious execution of expansion and modernization works. For this the already formulated private sector investment policy should be approved and private sector investment request should be made. That will create momentum in the works for making transmission segment equally efficient as generation segment.

 

Chairman at Electricity Transmission Consultant BD Global Ali Kawsar Muhammad Firoz said the above in an exclusive interview with EP Editor Mollah Amzad Hossain.

 

What is your evaluation of the present status of power sector scenario?

 

There was a time of power system brown out. Deficit, load shedding and darkness were the topics of discussion. The courageous decisions like rental, quick rental power plants, special acts for speedy implementation of power projects changed all to the present comfortable situation. Now is there no shortage in generation, loadshedding is now an event of the past. Our present challenge is ensuring supply of quality power on uninterruptible basis to all.

 

Another topic of discussion in the power sector is the fuel mix for power generation. Fuel basket must be filled with own and imported fuel. You have to bear in mind that even if power generation from relatively expensive fuel adds value, it would create positive impacts on economy. But we must not go for mono fuel dependency at all.

 

There exist various debates about future fuel mix for power generation. What are your views? What type of fuel mix you would suggest?

 

Coal must be included in the fuel mix. But securing finance for coal power plants is getting increasingly difficult. If we can complete all the under implementation and planned coal power plants on time we can get advantage of the low priced coal available now and forecasted to be available in future in the market. Consequently, we have to include Own Gas, imported LNG, imported power, Coal (Own and Imported), Nuclear Power and Renewable in the fuel basket. We cannot even completely exclude liquid fuel as well.

 

We have to bear in mind that alongside of technical studies we have to assess through economic and environmental impacts studies about the overall impacts of mining coal and setting up mine mouth power plants. These must be determined prior to giving green signal for mining own coal.

 

For the first time government has initiated process for formulating comprehensive and integrated power and energy system master plan. Which aspects should be given priority in your opinion?

 

In business-as-usual way of doing things, power sector used to prepare Power System Master Plans (PSMP) in the past gathering information about fuel supply from Energy Sector. From our experience we have seen power generation as planned cannot be done as Energy sector cannot ensure the pledged fuel supply. Now integrated power and energy system master plan would positively address such situation. Power generation planning and execution can be done in a better manner through ensuring supply of fuel from exploration and exploitation of local sources, fuel import and proportionate usage of fuel in the fuel mix.

 

In my opinion smarter use of own manpower would facilitate better utilization of foreign experts. International experts have greater exposure to global practice and processes. Integration of local talent would facilitate making more reliable planning. We must not rely on one party or group only. In the future plan we must give priority to quality alongside expansion.

 

The commendable success of power generation of the present government over the past decade has been blurred a little for power transmission and distribution segments failing to keep pace with generation. Do you think government is now taking appropriate initiatives for advancing the transmission and distribution segments?

 

Bangladesh has budget constraints. It was possible making proportionate investment in transmission and distribution segments as that of generation. Consequently, generation could make commendable achievements while transmission and distribution lagged way behind. Recently government has enhanced investment in those segments. But it is extremely difficult to match progress with the exponential growth of demand. We think under long term planning large required investment must be made in the transmission and distribution segments.

 

You have worked in BPDB, PGCB, EGCB and with Development partner. In addition to our knowledge about Bangladesh power sector, you are aware about investment strategy of development partners for the sector as well. What kind of risks Bangladesh may have to encounter for securing future investments in the power sector?

 

Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (WB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are interested for investment in all segments of power value chain - generation, transmission and distribution. But they also have constraints in their investment planning as well. The requirement was considerably lower in the past. Continued expansion of power system has also widened the requirement of investment significantly. Hence these three development partners, despite of their eagerness, cannot meet the entire requirements. Bangladesh must give attention to bidders’ finance like alternative source of financing now. Like generation, the transmission and distribution segments must be made open for private sector investment.

 

Recently for prolonged delays in implementation of some PGCB projects of transmission system expansion has created issues in power evacuation. Do you think PGCB is overloaded or inefficient?

 

PGCB cannot be considered inefficient by any yardstick. It is implementing projects one after another maintaining international standard. I think it is overloaded. The required numbers of qualified skilled and semi-skilled manpower could be developed commensurate with workload. Of course, the ongoing COVID impacts have also caused delays in some projects. Again delays in river crossing may create problems in meeting the power demands of the growth centers in the Khulna region. Required revised action programs must be launched reviewing the situation.

It is essential to upgrade power grid prior to evacuation of power from Rooppur Nuclear Power plant. It is true that grid has developed remarkably over the past decade. Do you think that PGCB would be ready for evacuating power from Nuclear power plant, which it will be ready for operation by 2024?

 

Special project was taken up for evacuation of power from Nuclear power plant. But the tender process could not be finalized yet. Grid modernization is lagging far behind now. Special initiative must be taken on urgent basis for timely implementation of required works upon objective review of the situation.

 

Many local companies and manpower are making continued contributions in the power transmission and distribution segment infrastructure development. But PGCB is exclusively depended on foreign companies and experts for the construction, design and other activities of power transmission infrastructure. Do not you think local resources are being ignored?

 

 There exists expert manpower in power transmission and distribution works. But the numbers are far below the requirements now. The manpower crisis is growing acute for new projects. Outsourcing of works of maintenance of power transmission and distribution infrastructure would make significant contributions in creating efficient manpower. DPDC has already started out sourcing of maintenance work. Other distribution utilities should follow DPDC. PGCB can also outsource maintenance works of its power grid. That will enable private sector achieving efficiency quickly through engaging experienced manpower.

 

Chairman BPDB in a recent EP organized virtual seminar observed that PGCB on standalone basis cannot handle the huge work load. He suggested for creation of a second unit. According to him that will make confronting emerging challenges much better in the future. What is your opinion?

 

I do not think a separate organization would be ideal solution. Rather like Bangladesh Railway two zonal divisions can be created. This may create dynamism of works of PGCB. But before that it is to be objectively assessed whether PGCB is overloaded? If so there must be ways assessed for overcoming that. It has to be carefully examined whether dividing into two zones would create dynamism or not.

 

PGCB must not be left alone for confronting all emerging challenges. Power transmission segment must be opened to private sector investment. India has achieved success in doing that. Bangladesh has also finalized formulation of draft private sector policy for private sector investment in transmission segment. It should be approved and private sector investment must be sought through appropriate process.

 

Distribution segment should also be opened for private investment alongside transmission. India has achieved success there also. Without wasting further time putting together small areas in different districts as zones private sector companies can be engaged for power distribution as pilot initiatives.

 

ETCBD Global is working on designing global transmission system. Are you only working in Bangladesh or internationally?

 

Alongside working with companies engaged in Bangladesh power sector, we are also working in power transmission system designing for similar companies working elsewhere in the world. All power transmission companies have separate division for designing. But their cost is very high. But we can provide cost effective supports. This ability would facilitate getting more works globally in future.


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