Govt drops Barapukuria coal import plan due to high cost

M Azizur Rahman | Published: September 24, 2018 10:11:51 | Updated: September 24, 2018 19:40:37

— Collected

The government has abandoned the contingency coal import plan lingering the northern region's grapple with power woes.

Higher import costs and restart of coal extraction from the Barapukuria underground coalmine led the state-run Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) to abandon the coal import plan, a senior BPDB official told the FE on Saturday.

As a consequence, he said, the Board has kept two of its expensive diesel-fired power plants -- Syedpur and Rangpur with 20 megawatt (MW) capacity each -- operational, defying the energy regulator's directive to shut such plants by June 2018.

Officials said that the Board sought price quotes from 13 selected global coal suppliers in August aiming to import around 1.0 million tonnes of coal on an emergency basis to generate electricity and offset the supply crunch in the northern region.

But the quoted coal prices by the suppliers were around US$ 200 per tonne, which is around 53 per cent higher than the Board's buying price of coal from the state-run Barapukuria Coal Mining Company Ltd (BCMCL).

The Board purchases coal from the Barapukuria mine at $ 130 per tonne for generating electricity at the Barapukuria thermal power plant.

Besides, the transportation of coal from the Mongla port to the Barapukuria power plant would pose a major challenge, said the official.

On the other hand, coal extraction from the Barapukuria underground coalmine was initiated again in September after months of shutdown.

"We have re-started coal extraction from a new slice a couple of weeks ago. We are now extracting around 3,600 tonnes of coal per day," BCMCL Managing Director Md Fazlur Rahman told the FE.

Electricity generation at the Barapukuria power plant also restarted partially with the newly-extracted coal.

But this coal would be sufficient to run only a 275MW capacity unit of the Barapukuria coal-fired power plant.

About 5,000 tonnes of coal are required to run the three units of the Barapukuria plant to generate around 525 MW of electricity, the Board official said.

People familiar with the situation said the electricity supply in the country's northern region suffered over the past couple of months as the Barapukuria thermal power plant having a total capacity of 525 MW underwent forced-closure due to the coal scarcity in the wake of a coal scam.

The 'missing' of around 142,000 tonnes of coal stock worth around Tk 2.27 billion from the mine's storage yard had forced suspension of operations of the Barapukuria power plant.

The BCMCL could detect this anomaly only in mid-July when it started measuring the overall coal stock on the yard.

The ministry of power, energy and mineral resources and state-run Petrobangla constituted two separate probe committees over the coal scam.

A case has been lodged against some mine officials over the incident.

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) is currently probing the coal scam and already interrogated some former and current Barapukuria officials.

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