Bangladesh; The entire world is passing through severe vulnerability due to Covid-19 or coronavirus, which has segmented the countries and regions as well as isolated the people from one another. The Western and European countries have been affected badly by the pandemic. The economic powerhouse USA has by now become the epicenter among the most affected areas after Europe’s most affected Italy and Spain, and Asia’s China.
The deadly virus is believed to have originated from Wuhan in China, which has almost brought the severity under control. However, the infections are spreading fast elsewhere in the world and the incidents of death are increasing with time. The fatality has already crossed 41,237 as on March 31, 2020. No vaccine has so far been discovered to treat patients infected with the virus.
Like other countries, Bangladesh is also in a danger. Officially, the number of infected people is only 49 as of March 30 but there are apprehensions over a major outbreak. The government has also taken pre-cautionary measures to limit the spread as low as possible – declared a 10-day shutdown to ensure social distancing and isolation. Earlier, educational institutions were closed. Meanwhile, according to some estimates, around 10 million people left capital city Dhaka within a couple of days following declaration of the public holiday, raising eyebrows of many who apprehended that it would help the virus to spread fast.
Amid the pandemic, the energy and power sector has geared up its activities for providing emergency services during this crisis. Announcement of various contingency measures have already been made for ensuring uninterrupted supply of power during this period. The impact assessment on implementation of different ongoing projects in power and energy generation, transmission and distribution is also being made alongside ensuring uninterrupted supply of power and energy. The impacts started surfacing on implementation of power generation, transmission and distribution projects since December 2019 when Covid-19 started spreading in China.
The number of foreign nationals working in the power sector has by now come down to 3,000 from previous 9,000. Officials at the power generation, transmission and distribution companies think that even if the world starts getting back to business as usual in two to three weeks, most of the projects would suffer delays for six months to one year. The most adversely affected projects are the second 660 MW capacity unit of 1320 MW Payra coal-fired power plant, 1320 MW Rampal Power Plant, Gopalganj-Dhaka 400 KVA power transmission line including substation, SCADA project of DESCO, underground distribution networks of DPDC and pre-paid meter installation projects of different power distribution companies.
The works of country’s flagship project Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant is progressing but at considerably slower pace. Many professionals went on leave cannot return. Works are being impeded for delays in transportation of plants and equipment due to closure of land borders. However, Project Director Shawkat Akbar told the EP that a situation for any delay in project implementation has not been created yet. The project completion would definitely depend on the Covid-19 situation.
About possible impacts on power sector projects, the situation of imported coal-based 1,320MW Payra power plant could be considered. The commissioning of the first 660 MW, which was due in December 2019, was delayed due to for deferred completion of the power transmission project. Though it started operation on trial basis, the synchronization of the second 660MW unit is being delayed due to Chinese experts who are now stranded in China amid coronavirus. This project is a joint venture of North West Power Generation Company Ltd with CMC China. CEO of NWPGCL Engr. A. M Khurshedul Alam informed the EP about seeking permissions of government for letting the Chinese experts returning as soon as possible. They will arrive on getting permission and will be ready for working after 14-day in quarantine upon return. The second 660MW unit will then be made ready for operation hopefully by June 2020. But commercial operation may be further delayed for lack of power demand due to shutting down of most industries due to the virus crisis. Power Secretary Dr. Sultan Ahmed said the permission from health ministry for the return of Chinese experts has not been received yet. Hence, the recommencement of the works at Payra will remain held up for absence of the Chinese experts and may not resume so soon. It is now confirmed that the commercial operation of Payra 1,320 MW plant will be delayed.
The implementation work on already-delayed 1,320MW capacity Rampal power project is being further delayed due to delay in manpower mobilization and transportation of plants and equipment. All modes of communication between India and Bangladesh are closed now. Indian company Bharat Heavy Industrial Limited (BHEL) is the contractor of this project. Their sub-contractors are also mostly from India. Manpower and materials mostly come from India for this project. Until the global situation improves, the project implementation may not get back required momentum as it appears.
The work on the joint venture 1,320MW coal-fired power generation project of RPCL with a Chinese company is completely stopped now. The feasibility study on 3,600MW LNG-based power project at Payra is also stalled. The work on another 800MW LNG-based power plant at Khulna is also not proceeding even after awarding the contract. Besides, the work on few other LNG-based power generation JV projects of BPDB and Summit, United Groups are also not proceeding. The work on S Alam Group and Orion Group’s LNG-based power projects is also impeded. The momentum for Matarbari power project has also slowed down considerably. Although it appears that there should not be a problem for commissioning of the project in 2024. In over all assessment, it appears that most of the projects would be delayed by six months to one year due to the fallout of Covid-19.
The most severe impact would, however, be in the power transmission projects. Power transmission has already fallen way behind the generation. As mentioned above, the operation of Payra unit one of 660 MW was delayed. An alternate contingency arrangement could facilitate the trial run and still capacity utilization cannot be achieved. For operation of the 1,320 MW plant, power grid substation at Gopalganj and the 400 KVA transmission line Gopalganj-Aminbazar Dhaka must be ready for operation. Piling works for this project was going on for this project. But due to the virus spread, the work has been stopped. Engr Golam Kibria, Managing Director of PGCB, told the EP that if the piling works cannot be completed before monsoon, this project will not complete on time. The construction of transmission line for coal power import project of ADANI Group of India is also stalled for the Covid-19. So, implementation of most of the power transmission projects would be delayed if the crisis prolongs.
Many projects in the power distribution sector were also affected. Several projects of Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB) cannot be completed in the rural areas. Import of materials and mobilization of manpower are being affected since December 2019. Major General Moin Uddin (Retd.), Chairman of BREB, said that the vision for ensuring ‘Power for All’ can still be achieved on time if the virus pandemic eases out within 2-3 weeks. Power supply to all the grid-connected villages can be achieved.
Dhaka Power Distribution Company Limited (DPDC) is implementing some G-to-G projects with China for strengthening its distribution networks. Work on expansion and strengthening could not start even after conclusion of contracts and completion of designs due to the fallout. The construction of underground distribution networks in Dhanmondi area had to be stopped immediately after starting it. Engineer Bikash Dewan, Managing Director of DPDC, said these projects cannot be completed on time if the crisis continues beyond 2-3 weeks.
DESCO adopted SCADA project for making its distribution network more reliable. It was planned to put into operation in 2020. It is now confirmed that the Tk 1.5 billion project is not coming into operation on time. Some factories in China, India and Germany are manufacturing different components for SCADA. But these could not be transported due to shutting down all modes of international transportation and shipment. It is now confirmed that SCADA project is not getting operational on time. DESCO was supposed to install 3.5 lakhs prepaid meters in 2020. But this is also stuck at different stages. Engr. S.M. Habibur Rahman, Chief Engineer (Development and Project) said the virus pandemic might delay also this project.
The PSC bidding for exploration of oil and gas was being delayed even after approval of draft updated model production sharing contract (PSC) and completion of pre-bidding formalities. Finally, it was decided that through a formal meeting scheduled on March 17, announcement would be made for bidding from September this year. But Covid-19 situation has led to its cancellation. Global crude oil price has already depleted to US$ 28 per barrel. It may further deplete. Most of the IOCs, including the majors, have started adjusting their budgets significantly under the circumstances. Consequently, there is a doubt that there may not be encouraging response if the bidding is let out now.
There was no response to the request for Expression of Interest (EoI) for a land-based LNG terminal at Matarbari. Hence, the work on land-based terminal would be delayed. Reliance on two existing FSRUs would get intensified. Work on some pipelines for RLNG evacuation is in progress. Their implementation may also be delayed.
Most of the industries have been shut down due to the virus outbreak. All commercial and business offices are also closed now. The gas demand for industries and captive power is also diminished. State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral resources Nasrul Hamid said the government is in a dilemma whether it should reduce or suspend the LNG import. Initiative has also been taken to ensure uninterrupted power supply during this crisis period. Initiative has also been taken for petroleum products and LPG supply under special circumstances. The power distribution companies have initiated special actions for providing prepaid meter charges for using power. TGTDCL has decided to give Tk 2,000 balance instead of Tk 200 to the prepaid meter users. Gas users have been exempted from surcharge even if the bills are paid at two months of intervals.
Nasrul Hamid told the EP that it is uncertain how long this Covid-19 would continue. The government is assessing its financial impact on energy sector. “We will decide upon returning to office. But our priority at this stage is maintaining uninterrupted power and energy supply and taking healthcare of all involved in the process.”
In conclusion, Bangladesh power and energy sector is also in danger and the future lies on which direction the situation would end up. Concerns and panic are there like everywhere. It is expected that the crisis would get over soon.