Published:  01:22 AM, 09 July 2017

UNESCO's objection withdrawal and a deceitful anti-Rampal campaign

UNESCO's objection withdrawal and a deceitful anti-Rampal campaign

A press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 6 July 2017 revealed that UNESCO has withdrawn its much talked-about controversial objection on establishment of Rampal Power Plant (RPP), with regard to the power plant's location. The High Efficiency Low Emission (HELE) power plant that uses Ultra Super Critical (USC) technology is located 14 km away from the outer periphery of the Sundarbans mangrove forest and is about 70 Km away from the region earmarked as world heritage site.

The press release states, "The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO has withdrawn its earlier objection to the construction of Rampal power plant project at its current location. It has also spared the Sundarbans from being relegated to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The decision was made at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee being held in Krakow, Poland. A high levelinter-ministerial delegation led by Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury BB, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Affairs is participating in the meeting to defend Bangladesh's position."

The 1320-MW power plant is a ultra-super critical technology (USC) adopting High Efficiency Low Emission (HELE) type imported coal-based power plant under implementation by BIFPCL, a PDB, Bangladesh and NTPC, India joint-venture company. In the wake of major depletion of discovered gas resource which provided the fuel for power Bangladesh, the government adopted imported coal as the preferred fuel for power generation. Given the complexity of mining own coal it chose imported coal as preferred option.

Rampal was selected as the most suitable site for its location beside the Poshur river and having enough sparsely habited fallow land. Moreover, the prospect of massive industrialization in Southern Region of Bangladesh following the completion of Padma Multipurpose Bridge and proximity of Mongla Export Processing Zone were also among the reasons for choosing the location.

Considering the proximity of echo sensitive Sundarbans mangrove forest, the government was additionally careful about adoption of technology and use of coal for the plant. The EPC tender document prescribed for adoption of HELE type USC technology, use of less polluting low sulfur, low ash coal, incorporation of FGD, Low NOX burner , ESP , Dry Ash Collection method for mitigating SOX, NOX, Mercury  and Ash emissions . Comprehensive ETP has been incorporated in the design for neutralizing effluents before release and 2-degree Celsius temperature difference has been prescribed between intake and off take of water.

Water Recycling is also in the design for minimizing the water use. A fully covered coal storage facility is also in the design. Covered handyman type coal carrier would transship and transport coal from Panamax type mother vessels anchored in the deep sea. A 275-Meter-high Chimney for letting out much less than prescribed minimum emissions is also provided for. About 200 plant engineers and operators would live inside the plant area.  If they are not affected there cannot be any reason why uninformed academicians and non-technical persons are worried about eco system and bio diversity of Mangrove forest at safer distance. It is a pity that such persons are treated as Energy Expert in certain Bangladesh media.

All these above were explained in many different ways by experienced professionals in response to uninformed concerns raised by a section of academicians and civil society. These groups with the patronage of international anti coal NGOs in social media and print media continued their propaganda avalanche. UNSECO also possibly got concerned. Earlier in 2016, a Reactive Monitoring Mission from UNESCO recommended relocation of Rampal power plant considering its likely impact on the Sundarbans.  Unfortunately, the report of the committee reflected almost entirely the position of a self-styled Oil Gas Protection Committee (OGPC) of Bangladesh instead of relying on Government assurances. UNESCO observations were duly responded.

The 41st session of the World Heritage Committee held in Krakow, Poland discussed the matter on Wednesday (4 July), where a high powered Bangladesh team clarified its position and commitments for safeguarding environment. The 21-member World Heritage Committee decides on whether a cultural or natural site should be inscribed on the world heritage list, monitors the state of conservation of the inscribed heritage sites, and can place a site on the world heritage in danger if found that the site is not being properly managed by the concerned State.

After a long deliberation, the committee endorsed Bangladesh's decision to construct Rampal power plant at its current location with necessary mitigation measures. The committee in its decision also welcomed a number of steps taken by Bangladesh since 2016 to ensure conservation of the Sundarbans. At the request of the Committee, Bangladesh agreed to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the South-West region of the country, including the Sundarbans.

The session of World Heritage Committee is still going on. The decision of the committee is expected to be officially announced within weeks of conclusion of the meeting. Unfortunately quoting the working paper of the meeting dated 19 May 2017 some vested quarter is still trying to confuse people. That document which some persons are referring to  WHC/17/41.COM/7B, Paris, 19 May 2017, does not reflect the discussion and decisions of the meeting held on 4 July, 2017. There is no reason for any one getting confused at all.

Works of RPP is proceeding smoothly after Indian EXIM Bank providing loan to BIFPCL. The EPC Contractor BHEL India has started the work and the Commercial operation of the plant is expected within 48 months meaning sometime in 2021.

Those who think coal will soon be discarded as preferred fuel must note that a recent study by the Australian government, that engaged specialist committee, has revealed that HELE technology-based modern coal-fired power plants would cost much less than renewable energy -Solar, wind or any other power generation option. Australia is going to go for such plants replacing the existing ageing coal plants. Coal would continue contributing as major fuel for base load power generation in the world well into foreseeable future.

We were always confident that UNSECO or any international organisation would come to senses when they get all information and documents from responsible Bangladesh government representative. From our past proven practical experience and having extensive discussions with RPP executives, site visits we were convinced that RPP was designed as planned, constructed and if operated accordingly it would cause no harm to the Sundarbans. We hope theoreticians and agitators would refrain from creating further controversies about high priority national project.

At the same time, we would also expect that the government would also engage a high powered national committee to monitor the implementation of the project. The project team also needs qualified Bangladeshi professionals alongside Indian counterpart. Bangladesh lacks expertise for managing operation of power plants which use USC technology.

The writer is an expert in energy sector, infrastructure development, planning, construction management and operation in Central and South Asia and Australia. He has served as an adviser to the petroleum ministry of Afghanistan

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