Despite demand being nearly half of electricity generation capacity, the government continues to extend the tenure of costly rental power plants.
The latest decision for extension of contract for a gas-based rental power plant was made in the Cabinet Committee on Government Purchase on November 8.
As per the decision, a 55 MW gas-based rental power plant of Precision Energy Ltd. will get an extension of 5 years to their existing contract with the state-owned Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB).
Under the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), the BPDB will buy electricity from the plant at a tariff rate of US Cent 5.7 (equivalent to about Tk 6) per kilowatt hour while it has been buying electricity from base-load plants at around half the price.
For instance, the government has been purchasing electricity from Summit-GE's Bibiyana 450 MW gas-fired power project at US 3.32 cents per kilowatt-hour, with a contract for a period of 22 years.
The government approved a PPA in October 2021 under which Consortium of (1) Edra Power Holdings Sdn Bhd, Malaysia and (2) Winnievision Power Ltd, Bangladesh, will set up the 660 MW base-load combined cycle plant and the BPDB will purchase electricity from the plant over a contract period of 22 years at a levelised power tariff of US 3.679 Cents (equivalent to Tk 2.94) per kilowatt hour to be run by local gas.
The move for continuing the extension of rental and quick rental power plants' contracts raised the eyebrows of the energy experts.
Many experts and power industry insiders believe that such a move to continue entertaining the costly rental power plants will increase the burden on the government for more subsidies, at a time when the sector has already been facing huge capacity payments' obligation with surplus capacity of electricity generation reaching about 50 percent.
Last year, the government extended the contracts of at least 10 rental power plants with a new provision of "No Electricity, No Payment" but kept a fund allocation of Tk 6,564.08 crore to pay the owners of the rental power plants.
This time also Tk 1205.40 crore was kept as allocation while approving the latest extension proposal of Precision Energy's 55 MW Ashuganj gas-fired rental power plant which will be paid in in next 5 years.
According to the Power Division's official statistics, as of September 13, 2023, the country's power generation capacity was 27,834 MW including off-grid renewable and captive power, while the highest generated in a day was 15,648 MW.
The BPDB official data shows the country generated 14,021 MW on September 26, while covering the excess demand by resorting to load shedding of 113 MW.
The demand was decreasing with the coming winter and the country's power demand was recorded to be 10,954 MW on November 8 while on-grid installed capacity was showing 25,339 MW meaning that the surplus capacity was more than double at 14,385 MW.
State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid, however, defended the extension of the rental power plants' contracts saying that the deals were extended for "emergency necessity" to tackle the current situation when last year 10 rental power plants' contracts were extended.
"As there is a gas shortage, we have to run liquid-fuel based rental and quick rental power plants on full capacity to meet the demands," he had told UNB.
He also said these plants don't oblige the government to make 'capacity payment' - i.e. payment for unused electricity, that was the case with some earlier contracts. "As a result, the cost of electricity from these extended rental power plants came down by 30-40 percent from the original cost," Nasrul Hamid said.
The government documents show that of the approved 5 plants in March last year, three belong to Summit Group, one belongs to Dutch-Bangla Group and one to Orion Group.
'Admit the mistake first'
About the country's growing surplus electricity and extension of rental power plants, vice president of Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) Prof M Shamsul Alam said: "There will be a big indiscipline in the power sector as pressure for private sector's capacity payment will continue to go up while import of primary fuel will be increasing. Finally, it will lead to energy insecurity."
In such a situation, he said, the only way-out is that the government has to admit first it has done a mistake by giving permission to the private sector for excessive power generation without consideration of the demand and then change the current policy and strategy.
Otherwise, the situation will be more difficult to manage as pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is coming to raise electricity tariff again. If so, it will further push up inflation, he added.
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