Summer dates with power cuts
The cash-strapped Power Development Board is keeping many fuel based power plants closed to save expenditure and allow load-shedding at a time when electricity demands reached new heights.
Unlike last year, the PDB now has enough power generation capacity to address the lion's share of the demand.
The power demand has reached a record 6,700 megawatts now with the summer approaching.
The power demand has soared as farmers want 1,500MW extra power this season for irrigation to ensure boro paddy production. The dry weather demands sub-soil water to be extracted using pumps.
The PDB has been maintaining a power generation between 5,000MW and 5,200MW since November last year and had kept load shedding away for four months. The winter weather helped electricity demand remain under control until late February.
Even though the PDB foresaw the demand surge from March, it could do little as it has been hard hit by financial constraints. It has to constantly supply imported fuel oil to various rental and public sector power plants. It decided to maintain around 5,200MW power generation.
This left around a 1,500MW demand-supply shortfall.
“But to cut the margin of load shedding, the PDB went for shutting down power supplies to industrial areas in the evening and reduce 700MW power demand and distribute the remaining 800MW load shedding in different areas of the country,” said a competent power ministry source.
This measure has generated a lot of criticism as industrial shutdowns have resulted in loss of production which would affect export earnings.
The government has directed the power distribution companies to keep the ceiling of load shedding in an area to four hours. But in reality, these companies, Desco or DPDC, are suspending power supplies for six to eight hours daily in an area.
A top official explained the financial constraints of PDB, “We were given Tk 5,200 crore subsidy during this fiscal year. Already we have spent Tk 5,000 crore. Now if we want to run our full power generation capacity, we will need a monthly subsidy of Tk 1,000 crore, which is not there. We have no option but to go for load shedding.”
He said if state-owned company Petrobangla could ensure its committed gas supplies to power plants, it would be possible to generate 6,000MW without any extra financial burden on the PDB.
Citing an example, he said on March 22 during the Asia Cup cricket tournament, Petrobangla ensured maximum gas supplies to the power plants in a special arrangement, helping the PDB hit a record power generation of 6,065MW.
“Everybody loves to blast the PDB for the load shedding. The fact is we have the power generation capacity but due to differences in power generation cost and sales cost, we are dependent on subsidy. Once our sales costs reach breakeven, we will not depend on subsidy,” he said, “People need to understand this.”
The official also expressed his regrets that people are critical about power tariff hike when they are actually enjoying subsidised rates of around Tk 3 or Tk 4 per kilowatt hour. In remote places like Saint Martin's Island, poor people are spending Tk 30 for per kilowatt hour of solar power and they approached the PDB proposing that they were willing to pay Tk 15 per unit.
The PDB aims at increasing the bulk power sales rate to Tk 5 per unit by 2015 from the present rate of around Tk 4. At consumer level, power tariff increase has been proposed for different segments of consumers.