Energy security for Bangladesh
BANGLADESH seems to be already in the middle of a severe energy crunch. Business leaders and newspapers have voiced serious concerns about the power and energy shortages and the possible adverse impact on the country's manufacturing and business sector.
Therefore the issues of medium and longer term energy security are no more a distant reality. Poor planning, lack of planning, or no planning in the past has brought about this state of affairs. Not only human sufferings from not having power for the bare minimum of decent consumption in households, the worsening energy crunch is putting on hold the entire economy's growth prospects. In fact, the crisis of energy supplies is now posing a threat of reversal in economic growth in the near future, if measures are not taken to increase power supply immediately.
The grim energy scarcity situation in Bangladesh makes it imperative for us not to waste a moment in exploiting all possible means to increase energy supplies. A great deal of precious time was wasted on mulling over the environmental impact of utilising the vast coal resources. The drag and the dithering have proved to be suicidal. Natural gas reserves have dwindled down to a perilous level due to rising demand (may be due to very low price) while alternatives such as coal remained untapped. With proper policies and their implementation, Bangladesh should have been a major coal extracting country in the region, generating power from coal and easing pressures on its otherwise limited gas resources. Even in the gas sector, reserve position of the country is not known with a degree of certainty. The way renewable energy sources are being used and developed in various parts of the world, the non-renewable ones such as coal and gas could slip out of priorities or feasibilities in energy production in the distant future.
It is of no economic benefit to Bangladesh to keep coal or other conventional non-renewable energy unused under the earth for an indefinite period of time. The best option would be to extract coal and use it while its production is still prevailing as a source of energy in the global market. It is unfortunate that we have failed to do it in a major way in the past.
But even now, crash programs can be implemented to start up large scale coal extraction and use coal for power generation. Issues such as methods of mining, ownership of the coal mines e.g. public sector or joint ventures by foreign private investors, endless bureaucratic tangles as well as reviews and controversies over these aspects need to be reduced to minimum. It is imperative that we focus on extraction of a non-renewable resource like coal at the earliest by decisively ending unproductive or rather counter-productive debates and bring the same on-stream for power production.
If the non-partisan caretaker government can't decide on this type of strategic issue (which I, of course, don't agree with, especially when the present government is bringing in major shake ups in the governance model, like separation of judiciary, independence of election commission, disciplining public service commission, anti corruption commission and etc.), then they should expedite the election for the greater interest of the nation and its economy.
Similar urgency is on the cards about gas exploration and production. The exploration process must not get bogged down by time-consuming decisions over who should explore, whether it is the country's own exploration and production company, Bapex, or foreign companies should be allowed a greater role both for onshore and offshore exploration and production of gas.
The present interim government has taken some remarkable steps (including approval of an expenditure plan of BDT 32 billion over a period of next 7 years) to revitalise Bapex. However, considering the present bench strength of civil beaurocracy in Bangladesh, ability to drive reforms and re-engineering at Bapex or Petrobangla and the time required to bring Bapex up the curve as well as the sophisticated technology required for cost-effective operations, the more sensible course would be to allow foreign companies to play their part with enthusiasm.
Foreign companies are operating in most countries of the world and it should not matter to us under the present grave conditions of energy insufficiency if they take the lead in energy production in Bangladesh as they can quickly add energy supplies to the national grid. Bapex can always play their role, once ready or side by side.
However, the process of bidding must be transparent in order to award the concession to the most deserving bidders while preserving the country's best interests. Again taking a lead from corridor discussions at home and abroad, I would urge upon reviewing the existing gas pricing model, to attract the respectable operators in this field.
Given the dire power crisis and the utmost urgency to move fast, it makes sense to attract qualified foreign companies to the power generation process. Even if there are some disadvantages to this process, it is perhaps a better choice than conceding to a reversal of economic growth and stoppage of the wheels of the economy. We need to exploit our full potential in entrepreneurship and development imperatives. Under no circumstances we want to remain trapped in the vicious circle of poverty. We want to move forward, remove the bottleneck towards wealth creation and ensure equitable distribution through better governance and a knowledge-based society.