Using modern technology in irrigation is not new in Bangladesh. Farmers use deep tubewells to pump water from the earth to supply to their fields. But due to huge shortage of electricity, farmers face trouble to supply power to their machines. Image by: Liton Rahman, Drik News
On 30th of December 2009 The Sheikh Hasina led Bangladesh Cabinet approved in its 51st meeting a draft MOU for power trading between India and Bangladesh. This MOU may be signed during PM Hasina’s upcoming January 2010 visit to India. If that happens this will be stepping stone for setting up a major energy ring in the SAARC region. For a long time professionals and energy sector managers are discussing the issues and challenges of regional energy trading in several regional seminars and round table discussions. Researchers and academicians have done extensive works on possibilities of energy co-operation and identified areas of win -win energy exchanges between countries.
Bangladesh was trying for a long time to explore possibilities about accessing hydro power generation from Nepal and Bhutan. But from these two land locked nations the access must be through Indian Grid. Now if Bangladesh and India can conclude the MOU the process of regional power trading will commence. All the finer things will require to be shorted out in the detailed feasibility studies. But once the ice melts it will roll from Mount Everest down the rivers to the Bay of Bengal and will beautify the land on the way.
The nations of this region have different type off issues as far as energy security is concerned. Nepal and Bhutan have enormous hydro potential. But most of their present hydro generation are funded by India and are committed for long term supply contract to India. Bangladesh and India have untapped gas and coal resources. Both have huge unmet and growing power demand. If all these countries can share their resources, they can jointly develop their power and energy sector with good neighborly attitude. If this happens, in matters of a decade this region can flourish and great milestones can be achieved in poverty alleviation.
There are several examples of similar regional energy ring. It happened and working smoothly in North and South America, West and East Europe and even in South East Asia. But for lack of vision and lack mutual trust and confidence it did not happen here. Now if Monmohon Singh and Hasina can melt the ice, it will be a great beginning.
Bangladesh Power development board (PDB) has deployed an wind power project at Kutubdia near Bay of Bengal spending TK. 9.5 crores. At least 1,000 consumers have been under taken this power supply project. Image by Mohammad Islam, Drik News
People need to know about regional energy trading before making comments about it. Participating countries have to sign sovereign government agreement which acts as umbrella agreement among nations. The way it is structured it gives sovereign guarantee to all initiatives and contracts those are concluded within its ambit. No change of government in individual country can alter basic conditions of the agreement. We are sure at subsequent stage after signing of MOU and detail feasibility study Bangladesh and India will first sign Sovereign Government agreement. Tow countries will need to carry out grid connectivity works as Power grids operate at different voltage and frequency. Bangladesh is aiming to exchange 500-1000MW power exchange eventually. It is contemplating to import power at evening peak and export in its lean hours. The applicability of such trade needs to be extensively evaluated at feasibility study but primarily it seems workable.
In the meantime a very shallow vision report of a Bangladeshi media quoting two BUET professors has attracted our attention. They feel that taking actions for power generation in Bangladesh will be more economic than to import power from India. They also think Bangladesh may suffer serious crisis if there is any change of bilateral relation in future.
With due respect to the BUET teacher we like to differ. Bangladesh will definitely continue endeavoring for augmenting power generation of its own. But at this stage fuel for power is a serious problem. People are thinking about importing Coal and LPG for fueling power generation. In that situation generating power will be extremely costly. It can never be cheaper to generate power on imported fuel.
If Bangladesh India agree on Power trading there will be greater incentive to explore untapped natural resources through sharing technology and expertise. Some joint venture major power plants can be set up using indigenous coal or gas and share power. Nothing can be greater achievement than this.
From my experience of North American and West European Energy Trading which we learnt during visits and training that trading under sovereign government umbrella agreement can not have any impacts of Government change. Countries are legally and contractually obligated to honor all acts under these. So no worries even if BJP forms government in India and Jamat in Bangladesh they would be obligated to honor deals. So there is no concern as raised by BUET professor and high lighted in a media.
So far strong political will and commitment were missing in furtherance of meeting of minds of professionals. Now it seems that is there. We hope that after signing of MOU bureaucracy won’t create further barrier. Once MOU is signed let professionals work out details. Let Independent Energy Regulatory Commissions of Bangladesh and India set standards, pricing, and health, safety and environment issues.
If only a break through is made this time, an energy ring in the region can be formed. Countries will co-operate with one another to develop huge untapped resources, generate and share power. Access to power of huge population at affordable cost will generate unemployment, alleviate poverty. The SAARC vision will get tremendous shot in the arms.
Kh. A. Saleque (Saleque Sufi) is the ex-Director ( Operation) GTCL and writes from Australia.
[Read all posts by Kh. A. Saleque]