If Bhutan can export its surplus electricity to Bangladesh, especially in summer, it will be a boon for both countries. There is an acute shortage of power in Bangladesh, which is witnessing a booming economy briefly derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and now with an acute shortage of power.

Bangladesh needs energy to power its key export industries running to bring in the much-needed foreign exchange. Helping Bangladesh with electricity could help Bhutan stop its dwindling hard currency reserves. There is a looming energy crisis in Bangladesh, according to media reports. With close to 85 percent of the energy generated from fossil fuel like oil and natural gas, and an exponential rise in the price of oil and gas following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, energy security is under threat.

The ripple effect is felt in all sectors, particularly the manufacturing sector. Shortage of power is curtailing production, export, and therefore, foreign exchange. It is not known how much Bhutan can export if ever a deal could be struck. At one point last year, the shortage was 1,195MW a day in August. This is equivalent to one Punatsangchhu hydroelectric project.

Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. The two countries do not share borders and electricity has to be carried through land transmission lines through India. Unless there is a fresh impetus with all three “friendly” countries agreeing to a deal, it would be the same story – getting attention only during visits and meetings of high-level officials and forgetting the next day.

Sharing hydropower resources had been in discussion since 2013. Three governments have changed, yet we are still talking about exploring possibilities. At one point, a tripartite hydropower cooperation to build hydropower projects beyond 10,000MW among the three governments was explored. Bangladesh was even ready to invest in the 1,125MW Dorjilung project.

Nothing has come to light and in the meantime, Bhutan’s policy toward investing in mega projects has changed. The policy now is to not take up huge projects given the complexities of building them. We learnt it the hard way.

However, what is still possible is to export electricity to Bangladesh. India too is helping its neighbour enhance its energy security. The Adani Power Ltd. has agreed to commission a 1.6 gigawatt facility in Jharkhand state and a dedicated transmission line for exports to Bangladesh by December.

It has been a dream for Bangladesh to import electricity from Bhutan while Bhutan can benefit from diversifying its energy export market. India can make this dream happen.  To export electricity to Bangladesh, Indian grids have to be used to transfer electricity as the two countries do not share borders.

Bhutan and Bangladesh are ready. If India agrees, it can also benefit from the deal, through wheeling charges or lease charges.  The dream to light homes in energy-starved Bangladesh with electricity produced in Bhutan is highly possible. In the spirit of the friendship and relations the three countries enjoy today, it opens a window of opportunity to help each other.

What matters is a commitment that transcends politics, national or regional.