Bangladesh stops gas supplies to old power plants

DHAKA, July 21 (Reuters) - More areas will go without electricity across Bangladesh as the authorities have begun cutting gas supplies to old and worn-out power generating plants to ensure more efficient use of hydro-carbon, officials said on Monday.

They said the decision to put fast depleting gas to better use was taken by the country’s army-backed interim government two days ago, with implementation starting on Sunday.

“Gas supply to a state-run power plant near Dhaka with more than 100 megawatts (MW) capacity has already been stopped and the process will continue,” said Jalal Ahmed, chairman of the state-run oil, gas and mineral corporation, Petrobangla.

“So far we have identified 19 units which are very old and gas supplies to these will be snapped gradually to divert the gas to relatively new and efficient power plants,” Jalal told Reuters.

Bangladesh faces shortages of 250 million cubic feet of gas and up to 1,500 MW electricity everyday and the gap between demand and supply is rising, M. Tamim, special assistant to the head of the interim government in charge of energy and mineral resources, said on Saturday when unveiling the new policy.

Around 30 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 140 million people have access to electricity, mostly in urban areas.

But the government recently decided not to supply gas, a major raw material for producing electricity, to new industrial ventures as the country’s proven reserves of natural gas were dwindling fast, energy officials said.

Bangladesh has more than 100 power producing units with nearly 5,300 MW of capacity. But they barely produce 4,300 MW as almost one-third of the units are very old, officials have said.

Some plants are up to 40 years old and their generating capacity has declined by up to 50 percent, they said.

An official of the state-run Power Development Board said delinking gas supply to the ageing power plants would help divert the gas to more efficient units.

This will boost production by 50 percent in some plants, which currently produce 200 MW each, the official said.

Other officials, however, said the move might deepen the power crisis across the country, leaving more people in dark and causing voltage problems in areas still having electricity.

Due to the gas crisis, nearly 600 manufacturing industrial units in the port city of Chittagong have become almost unoperational and the government has ordered a two-year freeze of new gas connections in and around Chittagong city. ($1=68.50 taka) (Reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir; Editing by Anis Ahmed)