Power functions as an essential factor behind the economic development of any country. Bangladesh is no exception in this regard. As both agricultural and industrial activities have increased here, the demand for power has augmented simultaneously. In a developing country like ours, accessibility of power is a must for the growing economy as rapid industrialization can improve the lives of the underprivileged people. Thus, a sustainable power supply, both in short and long term, is needed for promoting economic activities and developing the quality of life. We need a greater diversification of energy resources at the same time. If we largely depend on fuel resource, we could face the risk of price increase and supply disruptions. So, we need to concentrate on the alternative ways to get energy to preserve our precious fuel resource. Realizing this factor the government has taken many projects for the development of power sector. And it has achieved success in many cases although there are some criticisms as well. To discuss all these issues the daily sun, one of the leading English dailies, arranged a roundtable discussion titled “Power Roadmap: Target 2021” on September 1 at the conference room of East West Media Group Ltd., where the policymakers, experts and stakeholders of the sector took part with an open mind to examine the problems and potentials of the sector.
Well, the government has fixed a target of facilitating all the citizens of Bangladesh with cent percent coverage of electricity within 2021. Now, at the middle of 2018, they are very near to achieve that goal. Major General (Retd) Moin Uddin, Chairman, Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB), while focusing on their efforts, said, “Electricity coverage of the government till now is 92 percent which is 3.08 crore households. Cent percent coverage will be fulfilled if we can be able to reach a total of 3.42 crore households, which means only 34 lakh households are now out of electricity coverage. The target will be fulfilled within this fiscal year.”Due to the smooth supply of electricity development of different sectors is going on in full swing. In one hand, it is gearing up the foreign earning and on the other hand it is providing opportunity to a large number of people to be self-reliant. Referring to the example of RMG sector, Faruque Hassan, Senior Vice-President, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said, “Export earnings from readymade garment (RMG) sector was $11billion when Awami League government took charge in 2009, but now it is above $30 billion. That means export earnings from this sector has increased almost three times during this time. The progress could have been made due to the availability of power, whereas we used to face crisis earlier.”
Besides the government, private sector has played a crucial role to enhance power supply. Especially their efforts to ensure ample production and smooth supply of electricity for commercial purpose have brought stability in the industrial sector. While stating about their contributions Lieutenant General (Retd) Engr Abdul Wadud, Managing Director, Summit Power Limited, said, “Preparing expert manpower is one of the preconditions for optimum power generation. Therefore, private companies have been imparting training to its officials for an increase in quality and quantity of power production. Private power companies have contributed a lot for fresh employment generation and guarantee constructive engagement of the people in the country.”
However the government has no way to be satisfied with the current achievement as they are well aware of the increasing demand of power in the country. Explaining about their long-term plan Mohammad Hossain, Director General, Power Cell, said, “We have envisioned that the country will face a demand for power of 30,000mw in 2030 and we have set a target of producing 40,000mw by that deadline. The demand for power in Bangladesh could reach 48,000mw by 2041 and our production target is to manufacture 60,000mw by that year. Apart from these, as part of regional cooperation, Bangladesh is supposed to get 9,000mw power by 2041 under PSMP-2016, while the country is now getting 500mg power through Bheramara-Baharampur and 160mw power through Tripura-Cumilla interconnection. Besides, upgrade of JV Hydropower Project to generate 1125mw power in Bhutan and Katihar-Parbotipur/Barapukuria-Bornagar 765 KV super highway are also in progress.”
There is no denying the fact that Bangladesh has made much progress in the power sector in the last one decade. Even then there are a few questions on some of the activities of the authorities. The government has repeatedly claimed that there is no shortage of electricity production in the country. But people, especially the people residing in the rural areas, often need to face interruption in the supply of electricity. On the other hand, the price of per-unit electricity is a prime concern for the people belonging to middle and lower economic class. Mentioning this problem M Tamim, Professor and Head of the Department of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), stated, “The government has showed success in the field of power, but it may not assume that consumers are hundred percent happy. If we talk about energy security for the power, it can be defined in three ways – affordability, availability and accessibility. There is availability and has problems in accessibility but it is not defined to what extent power is affordable and there is no discussion on it till now.” Apart from this, Dr. Ijaz Hossain, Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), focused on some other problems of the concerned authorities. He said, “Although the government has ensured huge development in terms of power generation and power penetration, but it has not become sustainable and the policy is not perfect. The government has not devised any concrete plan on the captive power generation till now just because of the lack of reliable power generation. Then how will you bring them in? Do you want to reach the 2041 target depending on domestic use? The government is showing a dream of industrial development, but captive power users are remaining out of purview, and then how will you pick up money?” In addition, he raised another important question about the qualified human resource in the power sector. He said, “Bangladesh has huge lack of skilled manpower and managers in energy and power sector. We have to focus on creating technically knowledgeable and skilled managers. We even do not have enough managers to operate a 1200-MW power plant.”
Dr Ahmad Kaikaus, Secretary, Power Division, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, came up with the answers of the questions which were raised on the table. He first cleared government’s position about load-shedding and said, “We call it load-shedding when we stop power supply because of our limitation, but we are not showing any load-shedding (in official data) because now we do not have that limitation. It is the difference between you (analysts) and us. There are some localised problems which we cannot call load-shedding.” Though, he confessed that a little load-shedding remains in two northern districts. While clarifying the reason behind this he said, “We officially admit that there is some kind of load shedding in Rangpur and Rajshahi regions which are actually forced load shedding because of low voltage caused by Barapukuria coal-based power plant shutdown.” He further added, “It is true that load shedding is taking place in some places, even people are being harassed in some cases, but the government and its concerned departments are putting their best efforts to address these problems. Natural calamity is a major factor associated with interruption in electricity supply. We are trying to strengthen the distribution line.” Dr. Kaikaus thinks that affordability is no longer an issue though power tariff was hiked eight times in the last 10 years. “I personally think that people are happily paying the increased tariff as their first priority is accessibility, not affordability,” he added.
In his concluding speech Nasrul Hamid, State Minister, Ministry of Power, Energy & Mineral Resources, admitted that there are some problems and expressed his hope of overcoming these hurdles. He said, “There is no end of demand. Per capita power consumption is now 500Kwh, but for any mid-income country it should be 1,200Kwh to 1,500Kwh. We have to go a long way if we want to be a well-off nation.” The minister wants to give importance to the usage of daylight more and make electricity affordable to the consumers’ level. He identified unplanned urbanisation around the country as a big challenge for uninterrupted electricity supply. Without any future plan, the country has been experiencing a mushrooming growth of industries in different areas. Entrepreneurs of such industries want uninterrupted electric supply for their establishment which is actually not possible. Planned residential areas like Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara have turned into commercial areas, making it difficult to meet the electricity demand. “From now on, power distribution companies must be strict that they will not give power connections to industries outside planned industrial zones. Other ministries should join our future planning for development. Other cities near Dhaka should be well-planned as well. Detailed Area Plan (DAP) should not be only for Dhaka. It should be for the entire country. Otherwise, planning will be difficult and providing utility will be costly,” he concluded.Well, when development in any sector goes on, there will be some challenges and successes as well. Sometimes, the authorities cannot realize the challenges and mistakes they do in the process. That is where media can play a role. A news outlet brings different opinions together and provides an opportunity to the policymakers, experts and other stakeholders to share their thoughts. The daily sun, through arranging such a roundtable discussion, has done that job successfully.