Bangladesh facing more power cuts amid fuel shortage

Bangladesh shut its biggest power plant Monday because it was unable to afford the coal to fuel it, as a sweltering heatwave creates surging electricity demand.

Staff at an eatery work by candle light after a failure in Bangladesh's national power grid plunged much of the country into a blackout in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, Oct.4, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
Staff at an eatery work by candlelight after a failure in Bangladesh's national power grid plunged much of the country into a blackout in Dhaka, Bangladesh [File: Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP Photo]

Bangladesh could face further power cuts due to higher demand, its power minister said, as a fuel shortage sparked shutdowns of several power generating units, including its biggest coal-fired plant.

The country has faced disruptions to electricity supply due to erratic weather this year, with soaring temperatures pushing up demand in April and a deadly cyclone cutting off supplies of natural gas to power plants the following month.

On Monday, the 1.32 gigawatt (GW) Payra plant in Bangladesh’s south also closed its second unit due to a coal shortage, having shut one unit on May 25.

Nasrul Hamid, minister of state for power, energy and mineral resources, said Bangladesh is looking to restart the plant by the last week of June.

“There is no alternative other than to cope with the shortage,” Hamid told Reuters. “We will have to bear with this for another two weeks.”

The government-run Payra Power Plant in southern Bangladesh had already slashed production last month due to fuel shortages, but it was forced to go a step further on Monday, according to manager Shah Abdul Mawla.

“Due to the coal shortage, the plant came to a complete shutdown at 12:15pm [06:00 GMT] today,” Mawla said, adding that he hoped production could be restored within three weeks when coal shipments arrived.

Maximum temperatures in the capital Dhaka rose to nearly 38C (100.4F) on Sunday, compared with 32C (90F) ten days earlier. The weather office has warned that the ongoing heatwave will likely continue for the rest of this week.

When demand peaked at noon on Monday, it outstripped supply by 18 percent, a senior power ministry official told Reuters. The shortfall came a day after Bangladesh’s total power deficit rose to its highest in three weeks.

“Only rain can give us some relief as power demand decreases when it rains,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Bad for business

The power losses threaten Bangladesh’s apparel sector, which accounts for more than 80 percent of its exports and supplies retailers such as Walmart, Gap Inc, H&M, VF Corp, Zara and American Eagle Outfitters.

The loss of those exports will exacerbate issues around the country’s dollar reserves, which have plunged by nearly a third in the 12 months to the end of April to a seven-year low, limiting its ability to pay for fuel imports.

The frequent power cuts have drawn criticism.

“The entire country is almost without electricity. People are getting sick in extreme heat,” said Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a senior leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

“There is no electricity for 10 to 12 hours every day. Electricity goes off at night, nobody can sleep,” said Mohammad Sharif, a private sector employee on the outskirts of the capital.

Source: News Agencies