Is Bangladesh turning its back on renewable energy?
Bangladesh's dependency on coal-based power plants is gradually increasing, when countries around the world are abandoning the technology to make electricity.
The total capacity of under-construction coal plants in the world declined up to 13 percent last year, from 5,25,000 megawatts (MW) to 4,57,000 MW, as many of the plants were cancelled mid-construction, according to Global Energy Monitor's 8th Annual Survey, titled "Boom and Bust Coal: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline."
The report was published in April.
Experts mainly blame a lack of political commitment and weak enforcement of environmental laws for the gradual increase in the dependency on coal-based power.
The total capacity of under-construction coal plants in the world declined up to 13 percent last year, from 5,25,000 megawatts (MW) to 4,57,000 MW, as many of the plants were cancelled mid-construction. In contrast, total capacity of under-construction coal plants of Bangladesh is 26,600 MW. Two more plants, with a total capacity of 6,700 MW, entered construction in 2021, raising the number of such plants from four to six.
Producing 1,000 MW of power requires burning of 122.92 tonnes of coal. So, by cutting 68,000 MW of coal-based electricity, the world has burned 8,352.78 tonnes less coal, thanks to countries like Germany, Spain and Portugal, which have abandoned coal-based power projects.
South Korea, Japan and China have also pledged to stop funding new coal-based plants in other countries.
In South Asia, India is cutting its dependency on coal-based electricity, although it has the highest capacity to operate such plants.
According to the report, from 2015 to 2021, pre-construction coal-based power capacity decreased sharply in the world, from about 2,38,600 MW in 2015 to 36,600 MW in 2020. In 2021, additional 12,700 MW worth of coal-based power generation projects were scrapped globally, reducing pre-construction capacity to 23,900 MW.
In Bangladesh, however, coal combustion increased last year and will continue to increase in the coming years contrary to the global trend, it added.
"In Bangladesh, many coal-based power-station projects have been abandoned, but not on the scale initially suggested by government announcements in 2020," the report said.
According to the report, total capacity of under-construction coal plants of the country is 26,600 MW. Two more plants, with a total capacity of 6,700 MW, entered construction in 2021, raising the number of such plants from four to six.
If completed, the two plants would further increase the current 1,800-MW coal-based power capacity of Bangladesh.
In addition, at the end of 2021, the country still had proposed plants, capable of producing 10,800 MW, in the pre-construction phase.
The report stated that proposals for coal-based power plant such as Patuakhali Phase I, Matarbari Phase II, and Patuakhali (RPCL/ NORINCO) Phase II projects were listed for completion by 2024, 2028, and 2031, respectively, in the Bangladesh Power System Master Plan. However, in June, Japan decided to cancel funding for Matarbari Phase II in response to international and domestic criticism.
Nonetheless, construction of another 700-MW coal-fired power station is going on in Barguna, and according to government reports, the 1,320-MW Rampal Power Station, officially known as Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant, will go into production any time despite protests by environmentalists.
"In Bangladesh, a combination of high coal prices and guaranteed purchase agreement are putting consumers and the Bangladesh Power Development Board in a tough situation," said Flora Champenois, a research analyst at Global Energy Monitor.
Mohammad Hossain -- director general of power cell division at the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources -- said he did not fully agree with the report.
"According to our Power System Master Plan 2010, we had planned to generate 50 percent of our electricity through coal-based power plants. In 2016, we had reduced this to 35 percent. After COP 26, we had cancelled construction of 10 coal-based power plants worth $12 billion of foreign investment."
Only 7 to 8 percent of Bangladesh's electricity is being produced through coal-based power plants, he told The Daily Star recently.
When asked about inauguration of Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans in the near future, he said, "The share will slightly increase once it starts operation. However, after Japan's funding withdrawal from Matarbari Phase II, we have not sought for any financier yet. So, you can say that another 1,200 MW electricity will not be produced through coal. This means our overall use of coal is not increasing. This report is probably based on our Power System Master Plan and use of coal in the existing power plants."
Eminent economist Prof Anu Muhammad -- who is also member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports -- said, "Our policymakers often yield to pressure from international and national conglomerates to establish coal-based power plants."
These conglomerates take advantage of weak enforcement of the environmental laws in Bangladesh, so they can make huge profits through guaranteed purchase agreement with the government, he added.
He also spoke of reforming the existing energy policy to move away from coal-based power and tap into the huge potential of solar and wind power.
The Global Energy Monitor's report also noted that more than one-third of the country's power generation capacity is not being used, creating stranded power generation facilities that are paid to sit idle.
Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon and coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh, said, "Continuing coal-plant pollution in a highly populated delta invites humanitarian catastrophe. Bangladesh needs to reassess its electricity demand and stop construction and operation of any coal plants for the sake of its people, the environment, and its economy."
Power cell's Hossain said even amid the ongoing global energy crisis, Bangladesh has not taken any step to revise its decision to phase out coal-based power plants.
He, however, said, "Our focus is always on renewable energy, and we are working to increase renewable energy sources in power generation."