Friday, June 19, 2009

Keep export option, build green city: Expat experts suggest at discussion on coal

Refayet Ullah Mirdha, back from Tangail, The Daily Star, June 19, 2009

A panel of non-resident Bangladeshi experts yesterday suggested that the government formulate a coal policy with an option to export the surplus fossil fuel.

It talked about merits and demerits of open-cut and underground methods of coal extraction, but did not recommend any.

At a post-workshop press conference at Jamuna resort in Tangail, the energy experts said the government should build 'green cities' near the coal mines to ensure locals are safe from environmental hazards.

They also stressed the need for arranging alternative means of livelihood for the people affected by coal mining.

Nafis Ahmed, a panel member, said they have asked the government to develop a database through geographic information system for a 30-year land management in the mining localities.

"We have also suggested regular dialogue between the government and experts on protection of the environment from the perils of extraction," he added.

The panel observed that the country would be able to have four 500-megawatt power plants if coal mining at Barapukuria and Fulbaria runs on full throttle.

It said it favours exporting the coal in excess of the domestic demand because extraction, once underway, cannot be stopped.

The experts drew up a draft coal policy during the workshop titled 'Brainstorming with Non-Resident Bangladeshi Experts on Coal Mining in Bangladesh'.

The four-day group work, which began on June 15, was organised by the energy ministry and Petrobangla, the state body mandated to oversee production, transmission and marketing of gas, oil and other mineral resources.

In the draft, the expatriates' team suggested securing energy security for 20 years, provided the GDP growth would hover around 8 percent a year.

M Khalequzzaman, one of the specialists, said that while sketching out the policy, they focussed on energy security, institutional and legal framework, resource mobilisation, environment, health and safety issues, and resettlement and rehabilitation of those who would be affected.

Alongside its own coffers, he noted, the government should count on stock markets, public-private partnerships, banks and security bonds for funds.

Mohammad Mohsin, secretary of the energy ministry, said they would discuss the suggestions at the secretary-level committee to include those in the government's draft coal policy.

"The government wants a coal policy as soon as possible. However, I cannot give you an exact time by which the proposed policy would be finalised," he told reporters.

Muktadir Ali, acting chairman of Petrobangla, said he has already recommended export of 2 lakh tonnes of surplus coal produced at the Barapukuria coal mine.

Among others, Toufiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, power and energy adviser to the prime minister, was present at the press conference.