Coal shortage, due to no new production, may lead to a massive power supply disruption in northern region
Coal production from the Barapukuria mine in Dinajpur may be obstructed due to a delayed shifting to the new phase caused by labour unrest.
The country's first coal power plant, located near the mine, also may be forced shut again, after 2018, because of the coal shortage as the stock has started depleting.
If that happens, the northern region of the country may face a massive power supply disruption after August, sources at the power division told The Business Standard.
Currently, the yard has 1.50 lakh tonnes of coal in stock, which may not be enough to meet fuel needs after 27 days if the plants run in full capacity.
Barapukuria Coal Mining Company Limited (BCMCL), a subsidiary of the state-owned oil company Petrobangla, has been extracting coal from the mine phase by phase since 2005.
Production from the last phase ran out last May when the country was under a long holiday to curb the Covid-19 outbreak countrywide.
Generally, preparing a new phase takes two to three months. However, this time it may take some more time to start production from the new phase because the mine developer, China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CMC), has placed some conditions regarding local labour.
Before the outbreak of the pandemic and the declaration of general holidays in the country, around 1,147 workers used to work in the mine under two sub-contractors. They used to get Tk18,000-22,000 on a scale of Tk9,000.
However, the CMC now offers work contracts to half the workers and a reduced payment of monthly Tk7,000 for April and May to each of them.
Besides, the Chinese mine developer also says it will not pay daily wages to workers who contracted the virus while on duty, except for Tk120 for daily food.
In protest, the workers under both the sub-contractors have been abstaining from work.
They have said that the wages offered are not the main issue in their protest but that the CMC will have to employ all the workers.
Jahidul Islam Ratan, president of the BCMCL Labour League, said, "We came out together [from the mine] when the government enforced general holidays in late March. Now, we cannot join work by leaving a part of workers jobless."
He also said the workers had not been paid at all by the Chinese developer after the general holidays were enforced.
However, the BCMCL authorities hope that a solution will be reached on the issue soon and that the workers will return to work.
Engr Md Kamruzzaman Khan, managing director of BCMCL, said a crisis has erupted as some units of the mine remain non-functional owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Due to the [poor] economic situation and health issues, all workers cannot be deployed at this time. However, we are trying to make both parties realise the circumstances so that the mine development work starts soon."
Coal power plant susceptible to forced shutdown
BCMCL's coal is the sole energy of the Barapukuria Thermal Power Plant, the country's first coal power plant, in generating electricity.
The three units of the plant have a combined capacity to generate 525 megawatts (MW) of electricity by burning minimum 5,500 tonnes of coal a day.
However, two of the units remain idle due to the shortage of coal.
On July 1, the third unit of the plant, which has a 275MW capacity, was in operation and generating only 150MW, according to a daily production report of the Bangladesh Power Development Board.
The plant may have to be shut down if BCMCL fails to supply fuel before August ends.
SM Wazed Ali, chief engineer at the Barapukuria coal power plant, said the authorities will not be able to keep the plant operative after August if new coal is not supplied by the mining company.
"We have already acquainted the power division with the issue," said he.
On the other hand, BCMCL hopes production from the new phase will start in the first week of September.
Earlier, Barapukuria Coal-fired Thermal Power Plant was shut down on July 22, 2018 when 1.43 lakh tonnes of coal disappeared from the yard.