• Business Business

Residents call out government for controversial energy switch posing 'serious threat' to cornered wildlife: 'I am especially concerned'

"The incident snapped the electricity connection for around five hours."

"The incident snapped the electricity connection for around five hours."

Photo Credit: iStock

The Bangladesh government transitioned one of its small islands from clean to dirty energy, negatively impacting wildlife. 

Mongabay reported that residents of Nijhum Dwip Island in the Bay of Bengal were relying on solar power, and the government was supposed to install a "mini solar grid for an uninterrupted power supply a few years back." Instead, the government reversed the transition to cheaper energy by constructing a 15-megawatt heavy-fuel-run power plant in a subdistrict, Hatiya, of Nijhum Dwip. The construction was done under the 100% Reliable and Sustainable Electrification Project to give everyone reliable and renewable energy.

What's happening?

As of October 23, the 2,500 households, mostly in the fishing industry, were transferred to the national grid, powered by the 15-megawatt plant. 

Since April 2024, a 31-mile power line network has been built in Nijhum Dwip, including 1,500 metal electric poles ranging from 29.5 to 39 feet. The taller poles carry 11 kilovolts of electricity.

Why is the power line network concerning?

The Nijhum Dwip Island is home to a national park and Bangladesh's second-largest mangrove forest. It's also an "East Asian-Australasian Flyway site and a marine protected area." 

The project did not undergo an environmental impact assessment or follow the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines. 

Fisher Kaiyum used to rely on a water pump with electricity and ceiling fans, but after being switched over, he faced disruptions. 

"A few days ago, a bird got electrocuted at the nearest electric pole. The incident snapped the electricity connection for around five hours," said Kaiyum.

Conservation biologist and Ph.D. researcher at the University of Cambridge, Sayam U. Chowdhury, acknowledges that the power lines are unfriendly to birds. He said: "The new power line installation poses a serious threat to migratory birds. I am especially concerned about the globally threatened raptors, which are highly vulnerable to power line-related mortality."

He also noted that Nijhum Dwip is a winter home for the vulnerable greater spotted eagle, the endangered steppe eagle, and the resident Indian spotted eagle. 

According to the Fifth National Report of Bangladesh to the Convention on Biological Diversity records, the island is also home to 193 species, including 76 migratory species. Half a dozen of the birds are "threatened migratory birds." 

A larger issue is that transitioning from solar power to dirty energy is also a hazard for the residents of Nijhum Dwip and for increasing the planet's reliance on fossil fuels rather than driving it down. According to a Harvard study, "8 million people died in 2018" from polluting gases. These toxic gases come from plants like the one built in the subdistrict. 

Further, these gases stay in the atmosphere and trap heat like an invisible layer of insulation.

What's being done about protecting wildlife?

Preventive measures can be made to protect the wildlife. International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines dictate that eclectic poles be made of wood or concrete. In addition, the conductors should be 5 feet apart, and ground wire should be covered for the first 3.3 feet. 

While birds can sit on power lines without being shocked unless they are also touching something that allows electricity to pass through to the ground, the problem does happen, especially if the power lines do not have adequate clearing or safety measures. Recent studies have been commissioned to reduce bird deaths from power lines. 

Efforts to protect wildlife from human development can be successful. An example of success is Canada's Banff Wildlife Crossings Project in the Rocky Mountains. The overpass provides a safe crossing for deer, elk, coyotes, wolves, moose, cougars, bears, and lynx. It has reduced collisions with animals by 80% and collisions with deer and elk by 96%.

Join our free newsletter for cool news and actionable info that makes it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider