Payra power plant set to become economic burden on Bangladesh

Emran Hossain | Published: 00:06, Mar 14,2020 | Updated: 00:47, Mar 14,2020


The country’s largest Payra 1320 MW Thermal Power Plant is likely to become an economic burden as it nears commercial operation with transmission facilities still not in place.

Bangladesh will need to pay about Tk 160 crore in capacity charge every month as half of the generation capacity of the plant will remain unused until the installation of the transmission line, Payra power plant project officials said.

The installation of the 84 km 400 kv double-circuit transmission line connecting the power plant to Aminbazar in Dhaka is scheduled to be completed in June 2021, they said.

The first unit of the power plant with 660 MW generation capacity began its test run in January 2020. The 660 MW second unit is scheduled to follow suit in March.

The Payra power plant project, launched in March 2016 following a Bangladesh-China joint venture, will end in June 2020, following which the commercial operation will begin.

The first one of the 23 half-yearly instalments of $1.98 billion loan is due in six months after the commercial operation begins.

‘We are in a very bad situation,’ said Payra project director Shah Abdul Moula.

‘We are not only unable to contribute to the national grid and run at full capacity due to lack of transmission line but also the existence of power plant itself is at stake,’ he said, sharing the experience of the test run of the first unit.

Test operation usually runs for three months to synchronise a power plant with the national grid before commercial operation was started.

In the test run, the first unit of the plant could never reach its full generation  capacity because of low capacity transmission line, said the project director.

The transmission line built by Power Grid Company of Bangladesh for transmission of electricity from the Payra power plants tripped at least thrice, the recent one being on February 9.

The unit’s highest generation was 530 MW but it largely fluctuated between 200 MW and 400 MW.

The coal-based Payra power plant is a baseload power plant and was built to operate over a long period of time without any interruption, Shah Abdul Moula said.

‘Unlike peaking power plants, baseload power plants take a while to pick up its generation and cannot be stopped all of a sudden,’ he said.

Tripped electrical line results in sudden fluctuation of electrical frequency which may hurt the turbine and the boiler of the baseload power plant, he explained.

The first unit of the power plant had already suffered damage because of tripped transmission line, he said.

The 400 kv transmission line installed for the transmission of power from Payra was originally designed to be double circuit to tackle tripping and ensure reliable power supply.

In the first phase, the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh constructed 168 km double circuit power transmission line from Payra to Gopalganj but could use only one of the two circuits.

Power grid company officials said that their Gopalganj substation, meant to distribute a part of the electricity generated by the Payra power plant among some north-western areas such as Gopalganj, Madaripur and Fairdpur, was not yet prepared to handle double circuit line.

The 132 kv distribution lines running from the Gopalganj substation are old lines and highly susceptible to tripping, said Power Development Board officials.

Bangladesh-China Power Company managing director AM Khurshedul Alam said that half of their capacity would remain unused until the transmission line was fully prepared.

‘We were aware of it from the very beginning and planned accordingly, but delayed construction of transmission line continued holding us back,’ he said.

The Power Grid Company of Bangladesh still needs to build 84 km double-circuit 400 kv transmission line from Gopalganj to connect the Payra power plant to Aminbazar in Dhaka.

Power grid company managing director Golam Kibria said that they would not be able to complete the task until April 2021.

‘We are already late. But we are working hard to minimise further losses of the government,’ he said.

The Power Grid Company officials involved in transmission line construction projects said that they had had a 14-month late start of their fast phase of work because of lack of fund.

They said that for a long time they could secure foreign investment for commencing first phase of work and the government refused to invest.

The government eventually invested but only after much delay, they said.

The first phase of the project built transmission line from Payra to Gopalganj and ended seven months behind the schedule.

The Power Grid Company took the excuses of difficulty in reaching remote areas with heavy electric equipment and stretching lines across rivers in justifying the delay.

In the second phase, the Power Grid Company would need to build 7.5KM line across the river Padma for which they are completely relying on the Padma Bridge Authorities.

The Payra power plant is a joint venture between the state-owned North-West Power Generation Company and China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation.

The Bangladesh-China Power Company was formed to implement the $2.48-billion project. The Bangladesh-China Power Company got 80 per cent of the investment as loan from the Chinese Export Import Bank at 2.98 per cent interest.

Power Development Board chairman Mohammad Belayet Hossain said that being the lone buyer of power they were surely headed for a bad time if Power Grid Company of Bangladesh failed to build transmission line before commercial operation of the power plant was under way.

‘In that case the Payra power plant is going to be a burden and would only increase the government’s power subsidy,’ said Belayet Hossain.

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