The government on Thursday exercised its newly-found power to fix power tariffs under the just-amended Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) Act. It, thus, has ignored the recommendations of the BERC's Technical Evaluation Committee to raise the tariffs by 15.43 per cent.
The latest hike in power rates by Tk 0.19 per unit or 5.0 per cent, on average. The increase comes into effect from January 01, 2023.
State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources also informed the media of the decision to make 'adjustment' in power tariffs every month. With energy prices soaring in the international market, the decision is bound to create grave anxiety among power subscribers, domestic or otherwise.
So, the increase in power rates when the prices of most essentials have gone through the roof is certainly a big worry. The rate hike surely would give yet another boost to the cost of living and industrial production.
As if the suffering coming in the form of a power tariff hike was not enough, a different element of concern---power load shedding---is lurking in the corner. The problem is an old one, and it involves huge suffering and loss to the economy. The problem with the power supply even during the current winter season is indicative of a troubled time ahead. Power consumption goes down notably during the winter months.
It is rather an irony that the authorities having an installed generation capacity of more than 22,000 megawatts are failing to meet the power demand even during winter days. Thus it is resorting to so-called load management (power outages). The power division of the government is reportedly finding it hard even to meet the demand for 10,000 MWs. Non-operation of diesel and furnace oil-run power plants primarily to save fuel costs and the decline in generation by coal and gas-based power plants are responsible for the non-availability of enough electricity to meet the demand.
The last summer season did witness a substantial cut in power supply. The situation might be the same or even worse in the coming summer, as imported fossil fuels are likely to be costlier in the international market. The local supply of gas will continue to be inadequate.
So, it is difficult to expect any notable improvement in power supply in the coming summer months when people will count more money on account of power purchases. It is also hard to rule out a few more hikes in power tariffs in the future days if fossil fuels continue to be costlier. But the government will be free to put into effect the hikes without any obstacle because of the latest amendment to the BERC Act.
Thus, the developments in the power sector are quite baffling. You can generate 22,000 MWs, yet you cannot make available even half of that to different consumers either for fuel shortage or for lack of sufficient transmission and distribution networks.
However, the deplorable power situation is nothing unique for Bangladesh. Some other countries in South Asia have been experiencing power supply shortages. But reasons vary. The soaring fuel price, undoubtedly, is hurting all the oil and gas importing countries. But Bangladesh has some issues that are its creation. Most people are aware of those, courtesy of the media and energy experts. At the top of the problems are private rental power plants that have been devouring taxpayers' money for more than a decade and the government's failure to exploit its hydrocarbon resources. The power pilferage issue is hardly discussed these days. The service providers, too, try to ignore it. But, an independent survey needs to be carried out to help determine its extent.
In sum, the power subscribers need to prepare themselves to face twin troubles--- high power tariffs and frequent power outages--- during the upcoming summer months. But there could be some respite if the government takes a few extraordinary and innovative measures that might involve additional expenditures. Yet that might be worth doing.