Fuelled by inefficiency?

    Originally posted in The Daily Star on 1 May 2023

    The government’s ambitious energy policy over the past decade increasingly appears to have been built on irregularities, inefficiencies, and a lack of accountability of various stakeholders. A recent study conducted by the Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) explains why, despite generating 58 percent more than what we need, there are still power shortages in the country. It notes that of the 150-157 active power plants currently in operation, only 39.8 percent are running properly. A whopping one-third of the fossil-fuel-based power plants were found to be faulty, with 18 percent suffering some form of mechanical problems. Out of the 43 state-owned power plants, as many as 22 were found sitting idle for more than half the time, while nine out of 23 publicly owned independent plants suffered fuel crises for approximately 40 percent of the time.

    Since the current government came to power, it has increased the country’s electricity generation fivefold, reducing load-shedding dramatically (till it reappeared in our lives last year). To do so, it built fossil-fuel-fired power plants – often ignoring protests from activists about their harmful impacts on the surrounding communities and environment – and gave permission to set up quick rental power plants across the country. A decade later, it appears we never really needed all of these power plants. In fact, we have been paying an incomprehensible amount of money as capacity charges for many of these plants to essentially sit idle every year. The CLEAN study found that the 12 worst performing plants, which stayed out of operation or faced technical difficulties for the longest time, were actually paid Tk 2,336 crore in capacity charges in the past year alone.

    The study also found that the solar power plants ran without problems for 97.8 percent of the time, and that if we replaced the liquid fuel-based power plants during the day with solar, we could have saved $322.15 million every year. The question is: why are we still operating and investing in fossil-fuel-based power plants when cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient alternatives are available?

    It is horrifying that the government invested so much money in establishing these power plants, without proper planning to begin with, and then did not even bother to ensure their smooth operation. At a time when the country is suffering from the worst economic crisis in over a decade, what possible justification can there be for such wastage of public funds? Instead of focusing on reducing the many inefficiencies in the energy sector, the authorities, unfortunately, seem bent on rewarding poor performers and passing down the ever-escalating costs of power generation to the consumers. Over the past year, we have not seen any indication that the government will move away from this course of action.

    We urge the government to rethink its current policy, take urgent steps to phase out non-performing power plants, and address the inefficiencies that are driving electricity prices upwards for consumers. We would like to ask them to open their eyes – the statistics quoted above speak for themselves.