Heap of wastes at Karwan Bazar, Dhaka
Heap of wastes at Karwan Bazar, DhakaProthom Alo

Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) has taken up a project to generate electricity from waste without any environmental and economic feasibility study. City corporation officials said the project is too complex, almost impossible to implement. The cost of power generation will be much higher as the calorific value of the country's waste is very low.

An agreement was made in 2013 with an Italian company to produce electricity from the waste of two city corporations in Dhaka. But the project could not see the light of day. Another new project has been adopted on almost the similar terms. However, no assessment has been made as to why the previous project was not implemented.

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According to DNCC sources, one of the reasons for taking up the power generation project is to reduce the pressure on the landfill in Dhaka's Aminbazar. The Ministry of Local Government sought a letter of interest in the construction of a power plant from waste from DNCC area through an advertisement in a newspaper. A total of 17 companies submitted letter of interest. A list was sent to the Power Development Board (PDB). The power division of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources then selected the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) and sent a summary to the prime minister.

Regarding the feasibility study of the project, SM Shafiqur Rahman, additional chief waste management officer, DNCC, told Prothom Alo, "The power division is responsible for the environmental and economic issues."

However, the chairman of the PDB, Belayet Hossain told Prothom Alo, "It is up to the DNCC to check the feasibility as per the rules as it is their project. PDB will not give final permission without feasibility study and environmental certification.”

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Energy experts say studies were needed on a number of issues before the waste-to-energy project was launched. Electricity can only be generated if considerable heat can be generated from the waste. But the waste collected in the two cities of Dhaka contains a lot of wet or liquid content from which it is almost impossible to produce a lot of heat. Also a survey on environmental impact was needed as various harmful chemicals are produced when electricity is generated from waste.

Professor M Shamsul Alam, energy adviser to the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), told Prothom Alo, “We have to see if this project is profitable for us at all. The manner in which the Chinese company was selected was not correct. The work should have been done according to international standards through competition by inviting open tenders.”

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Master plan includes integrated waste management

Japan's JICA has been working for a long time on waste management of two city corporations in Dhaka. With the help of JICA, the DNCC has prepared a master plan for solid waste management. The draft master plan for 15 years was sent to the local government division last year.

The DNCC's master plan also calls for integrated waste management. Several types of resources will be produced from waste such as biogas, compost, recycling construction waste and power generation. The local government department did not give any decision or opinion on the master plan. In the meanwhile, the authorities initiated for large scale power generation instead of integrated waste management.

When asked, former JICA national team leader Shariful Alam Mandal, who was involved in the preparation of the master plan, told Prothom Alo that the master plan recommended action according to the type of waste. It is not conventional landfills or conventional power generation because it is not possible to generate electricity by burning all the wastes.

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Talks on electricity pricing

The Chinese company CMEC had a meeting with the power division on 22 July 22. CMEC informed the meeting that they will implement the project within 25 months. The contract will be for 25 years. The power division proposed to implement the project in 18 to 20 months and a contract for 20 years.

State minister for Power Nasrul Hamid told Prothom Alo that the Chinese company has been finalized after checking the list of companies sent by the local government division.

“We have been discussing the price of electricity with them. The company will invest around Tk 35 billion in the project.

According to power division sources, CMEC will spend around Tk 34 billion for the construction of the 36-megawatt power plant. PDB will buy the electricity generated by the investor at a fixed price. The Chinese company CMEC has demanded 23 cents per unit of electricity while the power division has been bargaining for 21 cents.

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JICA verified the pre-feasibility

In November 2016, JICA verified the pre-feasibility of generating electricity from the waste of Dhaka North City Corporation. According to the JICA report, the calorific value of the waste collected by the city corporation is very low, only 600 kilo calorie per kg, from which direct power generation is impossible. It is possible to generate electricity by increasing the calorific value of waste under special arrangements.

The DNCC will provide land for the power generation project from their 'Aminbazar Landfield Expansion and Modernisation Project'. SM Shafiqur Rahman told Prothom Alo that in order to generate electricity, waste has to be separated at the source.

“The calorific value of the waste collected by the city corporation is much lower. As a result, the price of electricity generated will be higher,” he added.