Country’s power generation capacity has increased three to four times in last one decade, but it still imports electricity from India.
Call it a paradox?
Bangladesh has muscled up so much of power generation capacity that supply outstrips demand to the extent that about a third of plant capacity remains idle.
But then it still imports 1,160 megawatt (MW) electricity from India. According to the Power System Master Plan 2016, the government aims to import more 2,336MW by 2030.
Generally speaking, we import a product when it is not available in our county. But when we have enough capacity in our local market, then importing the same product might not be the justified.
Therefore, the question arises: Does Bangladesh need to import electricity from India in the current context?
Replying to this question, Khaled Mahmood, chairman of Bangladesh Power Development Board, said considering the generation cost we are importing electricity from India.
“Per unit imported electricity cost less than Tk6 whereas the generation cost of oil fired power plants is about Tk11-17. This cost factor justifies why we are importing electricity from India keeping our plants idle.”
Indian power is cheap because it is produced from coal.
And in Bangladesh, about 33 percent of the power is produced from costly diesel and furnace oil and the rest from cheaper gas.
Currently, the country has a generation capacity of 18,000MW, while its highest supply does not cross 13,000MW in the peak season like this summer.
Therefore, some power plants with a capacity of 5,000MW has remained idle, which is almost 33 percent of the total capacity.
But the BPDB, a state-run entity, is counting payment of capacity charge to these power plant owned by independent power producers (IPP) as those power plants are ready to supply electricity.
According to BPDB’s data, every month it has to count almost Tk800 crore to pay capacity charge to private companies.
In 2017-2018, the BPDB bought electricity from 28 rental and quick rental power plants.
Of these plants, 15 were run by gas, 10 by furnish oil and three by diesel.
The average generation cost of per kilowatt electricity from gas-based plants was Tk4.22, from furnish oil-based plants Tk11.20 and from diesel-based plants Tk27.46.
In the current financial year, the BPDB spent Tk6,281 crore to purchase electricity from rental and quick rental plants while Tk2,812 crore was spent to purchase electricity from India.
Now there are 22 rental and quick rental power plants in operation.
Responding to a question on this issue, Power Division Secretary Dr Ahmed Kaykaus said, “We are now reducing the number of power plants that are expensive in comparison to imported electricity. We are also not taking any more rental and quick rental power plants except gas-based.”
In last one decade, country’s power generation capacity has increased three to four times.
Energy experts also support this cost effective policy to import electricity from India as this power has not any environmental threat to Bangladesh.
However, if an electricity import policy is there, government should the scarp the costly fuel based power plants.
Professor Mohammad Tamim, energy expert and pro-vice chancellor of BRAC University, said “There is no harm importing electricity from India. But what government needs to do is not to extend the time of costly private power plants.”
On the other hand, some experts criticised the government’s policy to import electricity and energy from neighbouring country. They opined that this dependency would create energy insecurity.
“Import based energy system cannot be a secure way for any developing country. It leaves the country in energy supply insecurity and price escalation risk,” said Siddique Zobair, member of Sustainable Renewable Energy Development Authority.