Experts oppose Rampal coal power plant, but government hopeful

Environmentalists and experts yesterday yet again expressed their concern over the planned coal-based power plant in Rampal adjacent to the Sundarbans, a world heritage site.

They urged the government to make public its environmental impact assessment (EIA) study on the planned coal-based power plant near the world’s largest mangrove forests.

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The appeal came at a discussion titled “Coal-based Power Plants: Bangladesh Perspective”, held at the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).

The government plans to build a 1,300-megawatt power plant in Rampal, in a Bangladesh-India joint venture.

The plant, Bangladesh-India Friendship Coal-Based Power Plant, is located within 14 kilometres of the Sundarbans, said Power Secretary Abul Kalam Azad during his presentation at the programme.

MM Akash, a professor of economics at the Dhaka University, said although called dirty fuel many countries are generating electricity from coal-based plants — and Bangladesh would need to move into that direction in the long-run.

“But it would depend on the location of the plant, the technology to be used and whether environmental damages are being avoided,” he said.

He questioned whether any study has been done on the environmental impact of the power plant .

“A section of experts are saying that it will damage the Sundarbans if the plant is built within 14 kilometres of the forest. Another group is saying that there will be no damage if the plant is even within the 10 kilometres of the forest.”

“This debate should come to an end,” he said, urging the government to review the study by a renowned firm.

Nurul Islam, a former professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said setting up coal-based plants is a long-term issue for the country, not a short-term one.

“We have to keep it in mind.”

He said before setting up the plant in Rampal it has to be seen whether environmental impact study has been conducted.

“We will have to conduct a study on the impacts of the coal-based power plants in Barapukuria. We have to see what their impacts on water and irrigation have been.”

The professor said there is hesitation among the government over setting up power plants with domestic coal.

“The government should not delay in extracting coal from mines where open pit mining is not possible. Local coals will give more energy security.”

He urged the government to set up a coal research institute to pull together all knowledge and experience in the sector.

Environmentalist Iqbal Habib said the Rampal project would be the most environmentally polluting project given its location and surrounding.

He urged the government to make public the environment impact assessment study on the Rampal project; otherwise, doubts over the project will continue to grow.

However, the location of the two other coal-based plants planned in Anwara in Chittagong and Maheshkhali in Cox’s Bazar, according to Habib, are not so critical.

He urged the government to share its EIA and Environment Management Plan (EMP) on the plants with public.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, executive director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, said the land for the Rampal projects has been acquired and earth-filling has been completed.

“Still the EIA study has not been made public. We have heard that the forest department has objected to the plants but their reservations are being ignored.”

The Ramon Magsaysay Award winner said the EIA should be independently reviewed.

Syed Manzur Elahi, a former adviser to the caretaker government, said the government would have to come up with reports stating the impact of the coal-based power plants on the Sundarbans and Chittagong city.

“It has to be ensured that there will be no impact on the Sundarbans. If there is the possibility of any impact the plants must not be built,” he said.

Elahi urged the government to finalise the environment impact assessment report after incorporating suggestions of the environmentalists and experts.

Dr Ijaz Hossain, a professor at BUET’s chemical engineering department, said it is possible to construct a 100 percent pollution-free coal-based power plant.

“It depends on how much you plan to spend.”Hossain said the Department of Environment sent the EIA report seeking his suggestions.

“This is not a report at all. I told them that this has to be redone.”

The energy expert said it would be a challenge for the country to run supercritical technology.

“Plants based on imported coal will also be a challenge as winning long-term coal supply is almost impossible.”

He also expressed his doubt over whether Orion Group would be able to sell a kilowatt-hour of electricity at Tk 3.5 to Tk 4.

Annisul Huq, a former president of the FBCCI, who moderated the discussion, said nobody would compromise about the Sundarbans.

So, the government will have to create a credible position.

FBCCI President AK Azad said as the gas reserves are dwindling, the country has no other option than to go for coal-based power plants for industrialisation and job creation.

He said previously the country could not go for coal-based power plants due to foot-dragging by the government.

“Two years ago, the World Bank told us that they are ready to finance two coal-based power plants with a capacity of 3,000 megawatt each under the public-private partnership.”

“But the government signed agreements with a neighbouring country to build the power plants,” he said.

Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, energy adviser to the prime minister, supported the power secretary, saying Bangladesh would definitely be able to use the supercritical technology to check the environment pollution of coal-based power plants.

He said the government would share the EIA and the EMP.

Muhammad Enamul Huq, the state minister for energy, said the government, experts and environmentalists would have to work collectively to reach a decision on the coal-based power plants.

Energy Secretary Mohammad Mejbahuddin said the government’s plan to construct power plants based on imported coal is a step in the right direction.

Bangladesh plans to generate 17.3 percent of electricity from coal by 2016 and 53 percent by 2030, said the power secretary.

At present, the country produces 250 megawatt of electricity from Bangladesh’s single coal-based power plant located at the Barapukuria coal field.