Green Groups: Environmental Impact 'Falsified' at Chinese-Funded Power Plant Approved by Dhaka

A report on the impact on air quality of the Banshkhali S. Alam coal power project contains inconsistent data and omissions, raising serious legal questions.
2021-06-15
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Green Groups: Environmental Impact 'Falsified' at Chinese-Funded Power Plant Approved by Dhaka A worker walks past the Banshkhali coal power plant in Chittagong, Bangladesh, April 17, 2021.
BenarNews

A Bangladesh government-cleared environmental impact report on a Chinese-funded coal power plant contains false information and plays down how the project will affect air quality when it becomes fully operational, said a report released Tuesday by three green groups.

The parts of the report about the impact on air quality of the first unit of the Banshkhali S. Alam coal power project contain inconsistent data and omissions, raising serious legal questions, said a study by a trio of environmentalist NGOs.

“The air quality modeling is flawed, resulting in predicted pollution levels multiple times lower than would be obtained with appropriate modeling,” said a study of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the Chittagong project done by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA), and the Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED).

“There is absolutely no mention of the health impacts of air pollutant emissions under the impact assessment. The impacts of the plant’s mercury emissions are completely omitted.”

The fact that the government cleared this EIA is “an alarming indication of lack of oversight,” the groups said in their joint report. It also shows the disregard for guidelines and standards by those involved in the project, they said.

“It’s evident from the EIA analysis that the Chinese financiers and companies have knowingly allowed such a project which they wouldn’t allow in their own country,” BELA Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said in a press statement.

“Bangladesh authorities are equally responsible for allowing such a project, which raises concern on their oversight and enforcement capacity.”

The plant’s EIA is not publicly available, which also shows the lack of transparency around the project the three groups said. The groups, however, did not say how they managed to obtain a copy of the EIA.

Will ‘take necessary measures’

In response to the three groups’ study, the Bangladesh government said it would look into their findings.

The Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources will share the findings with the Department of Environment, if necessary, said Mohammad Hossain, director general of power at the ministry.

“We will ask the authorities concerned to take necessary measures based on the findings, if needed,” Hossain told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news agency.

An official at the Banshkhali S. Alam coal power project – also called SS Power I – declined to comment.

“I am not in a position to talk to the media,” Ebadat Hossen, chief financial officer of SS Power Plant, told BenarNews.

The Banshkhali S. Alam coal power project is scheduled to begin producing 1,320 MW of power in 2023. Seventy percent of the U.S. $2.49 billion cost of the facility was financed by China, according to information on S. Alam Group’s website.

The plant is being built by Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation (SEPCOIII), a subsidiary of PowerChina, a Chinese central government enterprise, according to the three groups.

Coal power plants need to be strictly assessed and cleared due to their potential environmental impact, according to Bangladesh’s Environmental Conservation Rules, the groups said.

‘Emissions five times higher than China allows’

EIAs generally use models that project an estimate of the maximum air quality impact when a plant is running as designed, but the Banshkhali EIA shows average estimates, the three environmentalist groups said.

There are similar inconsistencies in the numbers on particle emissions from the project, the groups said.

This “flawed” assessment has been used to justify emissions limits for the plant that are five times higher than China allows for Sulphur dioxide and three times what it allows for oxides of Nitrogen.

In addition, coal-fired power plants are the main source of mercury emissions into the air globally, the three groups noted, but Banshkhali’s EIA has no data whatsoever on these emissions.

The Banshkhali coal power plant has been controversial since March 2016, when 30,000 local residents protested the planned project. Since then, 12 people have been killed in clashes with police, either for protesting the plant’s construction, or while agitating for allegedly unpaid wages.

The approval of the Banshkhali plant reveals systemic problems in the process involved in allowing energy projects, said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA and the author of the study released by the three groups.

“Bangladesh lacks meaningful environmental regulation, as do many other countries hosting China-backed energy projects.”

“Yet the Chinese government and state-owned financiers have failed to put in place environmental and social safeguards that would prevent project developers from exploiting weak or non-existent regulatory oversight.”

Meanwhile, China, the world’s biggest coal user, said in April that the fossil fuel would play a less dominant role in its energy production, the Associated Press reported. Even though the country plans to build new coal-fired power plants, it won’t use them on a wide scale, China said.

Bangladesh, too, said something similar.

Nasrul Hamid, Bangladesh’s power minister, said last August that the country would review plans for 26 out of 29 coal-fired power plants.

“Banshkhali was not on the initial list of exempted plants, but has continued construction nonetheless,” the three groups said in a press statement.

In addition, Bangladesh is set to construct another coal-fired power plant. China will bear 75 percent of the $2.06 billion cost of this plant, BenarNews reported last September.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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