The under construction 1,320 MW imported coal based ultra-super critical power plant, located 14 kilometers away from the outer periphery of Sundarbans will not cause any harm to this largest mangrove forest in the world.
However, the agitation of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports got political dimension when leader of the opposition joined the chorus terming the project as anti-state activity and urging the government for cancelling it for what she termed protecting national interest.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a press meet categorically rebutted the BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia presenting evidences in support of the government approved project.
This writer made an on the spot survey and checks of site activities and had found all environment safeguards in place and all other aspects covered for eliminating possibilities of harmful impacts of air, water and earth from construction and operation of the plant.
The Rampal Power plant Project is one of the several large imported fuel based power generation project taken up by the Government of Bangladesh as part of its power sector vision for long term energy security.
Bangladesh is set to achieve power to all by 2021 with a generation capacity of 24,000 MW.
Power System Master Plan (PSMP) 2015 under approval process now visualizes a generation capacity of 57,000 MW by 2041.
Bangladesh is aspirating to turn into developed economy by then. In the fuel diversification plan Bangladesh will rely 35% on imported coal by 2041.
Rapidly depleting own natural gas reserve and persistent indecision about mining own coal leaves Bangladesh with only option of importing primary fuel (LNG, Pipeline Gas and Coal). Obviously coal is cheaper and preferred option.
Most of the new power plants need to be located along the coastal regions with preference for the power and energy hungry south western region. Rampal has the unique advantage of relocating minimum habitants and affecting minimum cultivable land.
Most of the 900 acre land allotted for the project had shrimp cultivation with few tongs prepared for the supervisors. Some land was growing one crop.
Moreover, being located beside Poshur River it provided ease for transporting construction materials, equipment and plant as well as coal from abroad.
Two Governments owned enterprises of Bangladesh and India, BPDB and NTPC, formed a joint venture company Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Ltd (BIFPCL) on 50-50 equity partnership for owning and operating the company.
Partners contributed 15% each for the project and after selection of Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) Contractor Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), India the 70% of the project cost is coming from Indian state owned Exim Bank. Parties are equally liable for repaying the loan from the sale proceeds of power.
BPDB as single buyer of power would purchase the entire power for use in Bangladesh. BPDB being a 100% government owned company Government of Bangladesh provides sovereign guarantee as per norms of similar projects.
BIFPCL would operate as Independent Power Producer (IPP) enjoying fiscal incentives applicable for other IPPs in Bangladesh. Though relatively dirty fuel still energy world persists with coal as preferred fuel for power.
Climate Wire of World Research Institute evidences that 455 power plants of capacity 519,396 MW would be built in India alone over the next decade. 1,231 new coal fired power plant would be constructed in the world of 1.4 million MW capacity.
Rampal is located at 14 km away from the outer boundary of Sundarban mangrove forest and 65 km from the region categorised as UNESCO World heritage. Gladstone Coal port and NRG Coal fired power plant are located almost at the same distance of UNESCO world heritage Great Barrier Reef in Queensland Australia.
Bangladesh environment law permits such plants to be located outside 10 km of reserve forests. Location of Rampal in that consideration has not infringed any provisions. Some quarter quoting Indian Government 25 Km limit guideline is trying to confuse the matter.
Guidelines are not act and Law. Moreover, even in India two plants Tata Tegunia (660 MW) and Cuttack KVK (1,050 MW) are within 5 km of Cuttack Kalikot Wild Life Sanctuaries.
Technology Addressing Emission Impacts
(a) Technology and Coal
Rampal power plant (RPP) would adopt ultra-super critical technology meaning use of lower quantity of coal for generating greater amount of power.
The latent heat of super saturated steam would be transformed to electric energy by steam turbine. This would reduce CO2, SO2, NO2 emissions compared with sub critical technology. Superior quality coal (57,000 kcal, 0.6-0.9 % sulfur and less than 15% ash) would also primarily address emissions concern.
Indonesia, Australia, South Africa and Mozambique are the potential source of this coal. India does not have enough of such high quality coal. Hence the concern of coal coming from India can be completely ruled out.
(b) SO2, NO2, HG and Ash Control
RPP will have specialised Flue Gas Desulfurization Plant (FGD) for restricting SO2 emission. Wet Lime and Limestone forced Oxidation (LSFO) with double flow contact scrubber would extract about 95-98% sulfur from coal before it goes for burning to heat water.
The plant will have low NOx burner to restrict NOx emissions.
Electrostatic Precipitator would extract almost 100% fly ash and bottom ash from the coal and these would be collected applying dry ash cooling system. Mercury would be removed also in the process.
The above facilities included in RPP would restrict emissions well below permissible limit. Moreover, 275 meter tall chimney would reduce velocity of emissions such that emitted thin flue gas would not blow to longer distance. Air pollution may not happen at all at 14 km distance from the plant.
(c) Ash Disposal
Some cement factories nearby have already opened dialogue with BIFPCL for taking all of the fly ash. Currently ash is imported from India which has high sulfur content. For contingency ash may be temporally dumped at ash ponds as concentrated slurry. But that situation may not arise at all.
Water Use and Effluent Treatment
Closed loop water recycling system would limit water use below 0.05% of the leanest time water flow of the Poshur river. A multistage effluent treatment plant and cooling system would treat water to pH-7 quality and cool down below 2 degree Celsius. Such discharge won’t cause any harm to fishes and acquatics.
Medium capacity coal carriers either Panamax or Supramax carrying coal would anchor at deep sea. Modern coal carriers have facilities for transshipping coal to smaller lighterage vessels in all covered method.
Only two 10,000 tons capacity covered coal carriers would be plying through Poshur River channel every not adding too much to 400-500 vessels plying everyday through the channel. The vessels would be covered and would be of low noise emitting. Coal being self-burning nature is always kept wet during transportation.
As such there would no case of spillage of coal from the carriers. Even if that happens at all coal does not pollute water. As contingency plan coal of 3 months requirement would be stored in all covered storage facility for meeting any coal chain break situation.
Impacts on Sundarbans
Sundarbans is in vulnerable condition now. Unscrupulous persons are hunting deers, tigers, setting fire to tress. Another group through intensive shrimp cultivation increasing salinity. This is harming Sundari and Kaora tress.
Government must be more alert, careful and vigilant in controlling and eliminating all such activities. RPP in operation would stimulate lot of business and commercial activities in the region.
Government must intensively monitor and regulate industrialization of the region. A high power national committee consisting of Mongla EPZ, Mongla Port Authority, Coast Guards, Bangladesh Navy, and Department of Environment must be formed for monitoring and regulating smooth growth of industries and business for the greater interest of Sundarbans.
Regular capital dredging and maintenance dredging of Poshur channel must be done to maintain navigability and reducing salinity.
A modern coal fired RPP adopting state of the art modern technology (Ultra Super Critical) and incorporating all units required for extracting Sulfur, Nitrous oxides, Mercury and Ash would ensure that air pollution is controlled below permissible limit.
Closed Loop Water Cooling system would restrict water use and ETP would treat effluent to pH-7 level and cool discharged water to below 2 degree Celsius.
We hope the eye witness account of an energy professional having 40 years proven hands on experience would remove any or all confusions.
However, the plant would require services of a team of qualified, well trained and committed professionals and intensive monitoring by Department of Environment and other relevant agencies.
Saleque Sufi is an energy expert.