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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Setting up power plants close to coalmines

Setting up power plants close to coalmines
Mustafizur Rahman

UNDER Ottawa's proposal, power companies would have to close their coal-fired facilities as they reach the end of their commercial life, largely over the next 10 to 15 years. The companies would not be allowed to refurbish the plants to extend their usefulness or replace them with new coal units, unless they includetechnology to capture the carbon dioxide and sequester it underground. Two-thirds of the country's 51 current coal units should be retired by 2025. Germany has stopped a total of nine projects in the past year (2009)

Since 2001 there were more than 150 proposed coal plants announced in the USA, but 111 new coal plant proposals have been defeated or abandoned, keeping over 450 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year. 

In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is both authorized and obligated to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Appeals Board of the EPA in November 2008 concluded that CO2 emissions must be addressed before issuing air pollution permits for a new coal-fired power plant. This set a precedent, stalling permits for all other proposed US coal plants. 

The bottom line is that the United States now has, in effect, a de facto moratorium on the building of new coal-fired power plants. and this sends a message to the world. 

Obama administration is considering new regulations for the safe disposal of coal ash, and limiting emissions of mercury, soot, smog and global warming pollution from coal plants. To further strengthen the regulations, the USA is also asking multilateral development banks like the World Bank to stop financing coal-fired power plants and advises them that they have the responsibility of building a financing framework that ensures mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and strengthens the developing countries' economies against climate change. Twenty-six coal-fired power plants were defeated or abandoned. Several companies also announced plans to start transitioning away from existing coal plants. 

Denmark and New Zealand have already banned new coal-fired power plants. Other countries are likely to join this effort to cut carbon emissions. Even China, which was building one new coal plant a week, is surging ahead with renewable energy development and will soon overtake the United States in wind electric generation.. 

Opposition is building up in India against coal-fired power plants. The government has taken up a modernization and rehabilitation project which will rehabilitate and modernize around 200-220 MW of capacity at each of the three coal-fired power plants in West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Haryana. It has been designated the first phase of India's National Renovation and Modernization Programme. It aims to rehabilitate old and inefficient power plants with a cumulative capacity of 27,000 MW, or almost one-fifth of India's installed power capacity of 145,000 MW. Private electricity companies are also switching over to gas for new plants.

It is now evident that deeper and wider research-based knowledge on the adverse effect of coal-fired power plants is prompting the world to transition away from coal-fired electricity generation. It should not be difficult for Bangladesh to understand what should be her position as to coal-fired plants, particularly those based on imported coal.

Bangladesh is being hoodwinked and allured into joint ventures with India for two imported-coal based power plants of about 1320 MW each to be set up in Chittagong and Khulna. Pretty big area is needed for storage of coal and coal ash,waste. Bangladesh is reportedly, silently moving to acquire 1,200 acres of land in coastal area of Chittagong and 1,800 acres in Khulna for the so-called venture. 

Since Bangladesh is the world' most thickly populated country, the intrinsic value of our land is three to five times more than that of India. We must not destroy our two sea ports with dirty cargo of rather low value, like coal. The deep sea port, if ever built, must not also be considered for handling coal. A 1320 MW plant need about 4.0 million tons of coal a year, depending on thermal value of coal involved. Chittagong port's annual bulk cargo handling capacity is said to be 30.5 million tons, which may be insufficient soon if we launch real industrialization. 

Coastal area is our valuable resource. We have also other valuable infrastructures such as LNG receiving terminals, shipyard, steel mills, fish harbor, naval facilities, etc., to come forth in or around our limited coastal area with draft over 15m or so. We must protect and preserve our coastal areas for optimal use for right purposes, and not for highly polluting imported coal, any way.

From national interest point of view, the Indian proposal of joint venture coal-fired power plants do not merit any consideration. More over equally-owned joint venture with an investment of an equity of 25% or so is not understandable. Uncertainty about tariff fixation is another mystery.

It is said that Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) and Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) straight away opposed setting up the coal-fired power plant in Anwara on the grounds of anticipated lost visibility due to fumes, suspended flying particles, haze, smog, and disruptions of maritime and air traffic in the region. Air Force Base in Chittagong and the Department of Environment are not supposedly in favour of the project for a number of valid reasons, including hampered safe movement of merchant vessels to and from Chittagong maritime port. 

Any way, "Thanks, NO" must be our answer to the proposal. India already has more than 20 coal-fired power plants on our west and north-west. The entire Bangladesh is within their pollution range. It may be a subject of serious study whether the arsenic and other water contamination in different parts of Bangladesh is the effect of long-term pollution of the coal-fired power plants in India. As a lower riparian area, we might have been suffering from subsoil and surface water pollution and contamination for years. India may be requested to make studies and exchange information thereof.

The electricity exchange agreement with India appears to be one-sided. Just for 250-500MW power exchange, we must not spend $150m ADB loan fortransmission line and substation on our part. The condition of cost recovery provision for similar transmission line and substation on the Indian side cannot be justified. Practically, in case of even contract, the import and export tariff must be set equal in foreign currency, referring to bulk supply price. The cost of any facilities in the respective country shall be borne by the country concerned. The contract shall be subject to review every year and may be cancelled by either party with a notice of some days or months which may be specified. No technical deal should be made without thorough technology assessment.

Many people very often ask why we do not fix our "Coal policy" and use our coal as fuel for electricity generation in this period of "energy crisis". The question sounds simple and logical enough, but can it be really logical and beneficial to us unless we gain mining experience and capability? We may evaluate newtechnology, like underground gasification or others that are coming forth. 

Bangladesh has five coal reserves, Viz, 1)Jamalganj with estimated reserve of 1470 million tons, at a depth of 640-1158meter, which is already declared "Not" feasible now; 2) Barapukuria with a reserve of 390 million tons at a depth of 118-506Meter; 3) Kalishpir with a reserve of 685 at a depth of 257-480 m ; 4) Digipara with reserve of 600million tons at depth of 328-465m; and 5) Phulbari with a reserve of 572 million tons at depth of 140-350m. The total reserve of last four reserve is 2,247 million tons.. The shallowest of our coal reserves -- Barafukuria and Phulbari -- are also quite deep. Their total reserve is 962 tons. 

In consideration of subsoil condition, water management complicacy, monsoon rain, and other factors, open-pit mining may not be feasible without sacrificing the land, relocation, refilling, etc. Even in case of underground mining, with 20 to even 60% yield (subject a lot of uncertainties), offering concession to any foreign interest at six per cent or even sixteen per cent royalty would be against long-term interest of Bangladesh. 

We must analyze our experience with Barapukuria. which is being mined, and operating a 250MW coal-fired power plant at mine mouth. The Phulbari field may also be tried. We must build up our mining capability, even by hiring foreign consultants and engineering firms as needed, starting with pilot cases of new technology such as underground gasification or other safe and proven technology.

We may use our coal, if extracted without costlier adverse effects; and set power plants close to mines, using the latest and efficient technology. We must not think of export or import of coal by polluting our sea, rivers and freshwater bodies, fisheries resources and ecosystem beyond repair. We have to be wise and technically confident to act professionally. 

Dr Mustafizur Rahman is 

chairman, Institute of Development Strategy, Dhaka. The views expressed here are of the author's own and not necessarily of the organization he represents. 

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