Govt must set its power, energy policy aright for sustainable future

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FLAWS in the power and energy policy, which has increased the installed electricity generation capacity but has largely ignored the quality and coverage, have left people in persisting energy poverty, forcing three-fourths of them to use biomass for cooking, which through methane emissions adversely impacts the climate. Bangladesh has the capacity to generate about 21,000MW of electricity but the demand fluctuates between about 10,000MW in the summer and 6,000MW in the winter. In the past decade, since the Awami League’s assumption of office in 2009, the government has invested $15 billion in increasing power generation capacity, which was more or less 5,000MW that time. But it has invested a little more than $1.5 billion in the development of transmission infrastructure and about $2.6 billion in the upgrade of the distribution infrastructure, leaving the development of the power sector largely lop-sided. The government, meanwhile, in 2019 paid Tk 90 billion in capacity charges to idle power plants as 43 per cent of the installed generation capacity remained unused. The government, as reported in the middle of July, paid Tk 511.57 billion in capacity charges to such plants in about a decade, which appears to be higher than what the authorities have showed as the projected power sector losses that they are try to make up for by way of increase in power tariff.

Such a situation warrants that the government should monitor how the economy grows to decide the development that the power sector demands. Frequent changes in the power sector master plan have also put short-term plans for power and energy in jeopardy. The government in 2005 planned to expand the power sector based mainly on gas, but changed it in 2010 with a focus on coal and, yet again, changed it in 2015 with a decision not to extract domestic coal. All such changes having harmed the master plan in the long run, the government has yet to be able to ensure full electrification although it has always said that it is committed to a full electrification at affordable prices. But consumers still face power outage, mostly to the chagrin of consumers, that authorities try to paper over by passing it off as power interruption, conveniently forgetting that it is for them to see that such interruption does not take place. It is also for the authorities to see that the energy that people use has less adverse impact and the power policy should focus on this. But three-fourths of the people still use biomass for cooking, even when liquefied petroleum gas and compressed natural gas are available but for high prices, which emits methane, considered second to carbon dioxide in its effect on climate change, into the environment.

While meeting the energy need of citizens is a high priority of the government, ensuring that energy has less disastrous impact on the environment should also be high on government agenda. The government must, in such a situation, set it power policy on the right track to ensure a sustainable future.

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