A much-needed course correction
THE decision of the Power Cell, a state agency in the power sector, to start re-powering old units in four power stations from October, which promises an increase of about 1,500 megawatts of electricity, that too, with relatively low gas consumption and investment, seems to suggest that, at last, good senses have dawned upon the Awami League-Jatiya Party government. According to a report published in New Age on Thursday, the project will begin through re-powering of Unit 4 at the Ghorasal power station, which will increase generation from 403MW from 180MW at an additional gas consumption of 30 per cent. The cost of the re-powering project, which the World Bank has agreed to finance, has been estimated at $270 million. The projected efficiency, in terms of generation, cost and gas consumption, could make one wonder why the incumbent government went for private sector rental power plants in the first place. It is not that the re-powering concept suddenly cropped up; in fact, according to the New Age report, the suggestion was placed and incorporated more than 17 years back in the Power System Master Plan in 1995. Whatever the compulsion may have been, its decision to go for rental plants has well and truly brought the economy to its knees, having touched off a liquidity crisis, foreign currency reserve crunch, devaluation of the taka against the dollar, huge subsidies on fuel import, price rise of essentials — the list could go on and on.
Be that as it may, the belated yet welcome decision to initiate the re-powering project, we hope, is a much-needed realisation on the part of the government that the state needs to be effectively present in power generation and not allow complete monopoly of the private sector. The incumbents need to also realise that there is no quick-fix to power generation problem, that they need to develop a comprehensive strategy for the energy sector and that such a strategy needs to revolve around the public sector. While the country needs to augment its power generation capacity to fuel economic development, the solution does not lie in quick rental plants or such stop-gap and inordinately expensive measures. Most importantly, the government needs to realise that it needs to invest more in the energy sector, primarily in installation of new public-sector plants and modernisation of the existing ones. Of course, the private sector needs to be encouraged to partake in energy generation but such engagements needs to be under public-private partnerships. The bottom line is that in no way should the power or, for that matter, any productive sector be allowed to be become exclusive domains for the private sector.
It is still not clear how long it would take the economy to overcome the damage caused by the government’s ill-conceived plan to increase generation through private-sector quick rental plants. However, given the Power Cell’s decision to go for re-powering the old power stations, one might feel encouraged that the bitter experience may have taught the incumbents some lessons.
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