The 660MW first unit of the Payra power plant started production on 13 January 2020. The second unit began operating on 26 August the same year. However, not being able to get time from the prime minister Sheikh Hasina due to the prevalence of the Covid pandemic for so long, the plant hasn't been officially inaugurated as yet. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to officially inaugurate this power plant next Monday. She will be joined by her energy affairs advisor Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, state minister for power, energy and mineral resources Nasrul Hamid and the Chinese ambassador in Dhaka Li Jiming, at the inauguration.

The Payra thermal power plant area has been decorated in preparation for the inauguration. Security has also been stepped up.

Payra thermal power plants is one of the best projects in the country in consideration of time, costs and technology. This is a milestone in the power sector, a precedent for other projects
M Tamim, energy expert

Speaking to Prothom Alo, state minister Nasrul Hamid said, never before in the 50 years of this country's history has such a large infrastructure been completed within such a short time. This is a significant success of the energy division. Neither the time nor the costs have been extended on this project. On the contrary, these have been saved.

Dual ownership

The Payra thermal power plant at Kalapara, Patuakhali, has been constructed by the Bangladesh China Power Company Limited (BCPCL), formed with equal partnership between two state-owned companies of Bangladesh and China respectively. The two companies with 50 per cent shares each are the locally owned Northeast Power Generation Company Limited and China's China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CMC).

The Power Development Board (PDB) signed a deal in September 2016 to purchase power from the Payra thermal power plant. Within a month of the agreement, BCPCL signed a funding agreement. China's Exim Bank is providing 80 per cent of the funds as loan assistance.

BCPCL managing director AM Khorshedul Alam, speaking to Prothom Alo, said it takes one and a half to two years to arrange funding for any big project. It took just a month in this case. And 1000 acres of land was acquired within just eight months. Work on several different sections of the project continued simultaneously. All of these factors made it possible to finish the project in a short time.

Environmentalists, however, maintain that the use of coal in the Payra thermal powered power plant will be harmful to the environment. This plant will use 4 million (40 lakh) tonnes of coal annually. But officials of the project say that ultra-supercritical technology is being used in this plant, which is the most advanced eco-friendly technology. Carbon emissions will be regularly measured to monitor environmental pollution. So far there has been nothing damaging.

With the construction of the Payra thermal power plant, Bangladesh is now the 133rd country in the world to utilise ultra-supercritical technology, said BCPCL.

Alternative transmission

Though the Payra plant went into production in time, complications arose in power supply to Dhaka from the plant due to transmission lines. The Power Grid Company Bangladesh (PGCB) could not complete the transmission lines in time. And PDB was having to pay large sums in fines for failing to purchase power from Payra as per agreement.

BCPCL, however, has come up with an alternative. The company's officials said that a sub-station has been set up, funded by the power plant, and arrangements have been made to provide 90MW of power to Patuakhali district. Also, an alternative transmission line is being used to supply electricity from this plant to Khulna and Jashore. As a result, the power plant can now supply 85 per cent of its capacity. Meanwhile, the line being set up by PGCB may be completed this December.

Production costs

According to PDB, before the Payra thermal power plant, the production capacity of the country's largest power plant had been 450MW. There are three power plants with this capacity in the country. Also, three other large power plants are expected to go into production within the next few years. These are the 2400MW Rooppur nuclear power plant, the 1320 Rampal thermal power plant in Bagerhat and the 1200MW Matarbari power plant in Cox's Bazar.

Concerned persons say that when large power plants go into operation, the overall power production costs decrease because then dependence on smaller diesel and furnace oil fired plants is lessened.

PDB sources say, presently diesel-fired power production costs around Tk 30 per unit, production with furnace oil Tk 14 per unit and with coal, Tk 7 or 8 per unit. The lowest cost is with gas-fired product at around Tk 4 per unit. Overall the average power production cost in the country is around Tk 8.50 per unit.

Energy expert M Tamim, who served as special assistant to the chief advisor of the former caretaker government, told Prothom Alo that the Payra thermal power plants is one of the best projects in the country in consideration of time, costs and technology. This is a milestone in the power sector, a precedent for other projects.

He further said power will be available at reasonable rates from this plant for an extended time. Optimum use of the plant must be ensured by ensuring the transmission lines and steady supply of coal.

* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir