A Chinese-built solar power plant started supplying electricity to Bangladesh’s national grid on Wednesday, producing about 7.4 megawatts of energy, two weeks after Dhaka and Beijing agreed to implement renewable projects in the South Asian nation, officials said.
The Chinese firm ZTE Corporation built the Kaptai solar power plant in the hilly district of Rangamati in the southeast at a cost of more than 1.1 billion taka (U.S. $13 million), project manager A.T.M. Abduzzahed told BenarNews.
The plant began formal operations just hours after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated it, Abduzzahed said.
“This is the first public solar power plant to supply electricity to the national electricity supply grid,” he said.
ZTE will operate the plant for two years before handing it over the Bangladesh, Abduzzahed said.
Kaptai power plant, which was built with loans from the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB), was one of the four power plants inaugurated by Hasina through a video conference on Wednesday, according to Ihsanul Karim, the prime minister’s press secretary.
The four power plants would add a total of 435 megawatts of electricity to the country’s national grid, Karim told BenarNews.
The three other power plants – Baghabari, Jamalpur and Bogura – were separately built by local companies, which intend to sell their electricity to the Power Development Board (PDB) under the ministry of power, Karim said.
Kaptai began operating less than two weeks after Bangladeshi officials signed an agreement with the Beijing-based China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CMC) to produce 500 megawatts of electricity across the nation.
CMC is a subsidiary of the state-owned conglomerate China General Technology Group (Genertec), a manufacturer of heavy-duty machinery.
The agreement signed on Aug. 27 is a new Chinese investment in Bangladesh that falls under Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative, which stretches to 70 countries. The initiative aims to build a 21st-century Silk Road by connecting the countries through networks of railways, bridges and ports, linking China with Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.
While inaugurating the four power plants on Wednesday, Hasina said her government was taking measures to increase power generation, including holding talks with neighboring countries, to import electricity to light up every village in the country, Bangladesh’s national news agency BSS quoted her as saying.
“We wanted to illuminate each of the villages and for that, the government is setting up power plants and transmission lines and holding talks with neighboring countries – India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar – to import electricity,” she said, according to BSS.
Abduzzahed said the Kaptai plant would generate power at a cost of 5.48 taka (U.S. $0.6) per watt.
But an energy expert criticized the government for spending U.S. $13 million to build the Kaptai power plant, which will only produce 7.4 megawatts of electricity.
“Actually, the per megawatt of electricity cost is 140 million taka (U.S. $1.7 million), which is extremely high. An Indian solar project costs just 60 million taka (U.S. $710,000). With this [current] cost, they should not be able to supply power at an affordable price of 5.48 taka (U.S. 60 cents), as they state,” M. Tamim, a former energy adviser to the caretaker government, told BenarNews on Wednesday.
But Tamim said land acquisition and other costs needed to connect the plant with the distribution network could have factored in for the higher expenditure.
“Solar power has a huge potential in Bangladesh, but the problem is the solar project requires a huge stretch of land. We are land-hungry country. If the cost of the project is high, then the cost of production would be high, risking the sustainability of the project,” he said.