Power cri­sis...

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - HEALTHCARE -

The util­i­ties reg­u­la­tor, the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), in mid-2017 ap­proved a no-coal LCLTGEP, which was slightly mod­i­fied for higher than planned liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas power gen­er­a­tion in the short term and heavy re­new­able en­ergy in the long term, in line with the gov­ern­ment pol­icy, as the PUCSL has the le­gal power to do so.

The CEBEU has main­tained that the PUCSL’S de­ci­sion was il­le­gal, al­though both the PUCSL Act No. 35 of 2002 and the Elec­tric­ity Act No. 20 of 2009 grant the PUCSL wide-rang­ing pow­ers to reg­u­late and pro­mote the ef­fi­cient al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources. The no-coal sce­nario was one of many op­tions sub­mit­ted by the CEB but the PUCSL, when it ap­proved the no-coal LCLTGEP, had said that the ap­proved plan would save US $ 1.13 bil­lion in tax­payer fi­nances in present value, when tak­ing into ac­count the so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal costs, com­pared to the coal-heavy LCLTGEP pre­ferred by the CEB.

The dan­gers of coal power gen­er­a­tion have been aptly demon­strated, with the coun­try’s sole coal power plant in Norochcholai, which is prone to fre­quent break­downs, caus­ing health com­pli­ca­tions to em­ploy­ees and nearby res­i­dents and caus­ing the death of marine life in the sur­round­ing ar­eas.

Just last week, one of the units in Norochcholai was sus­pended from ac­tiv­ity since the CEB had been op­er­at­ing it with faulty fil­ters. Two years ago, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists won a case at the Supreme Court to halt the con­struc­tion of a sec­ond coal power plant in Sam­pur.

How­ever, dur­ing the con­sul­ta­tion process for the LCLTGEP, both pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tor ex­perts had pointed out how the CEB had ma­nip­u­lated data in or­der to make its pre­ferred coal­heavy LCLTGEP seem cheaper and more fea­si­ble.

Fur­ther, the coal ten­ders ap­proved by the CEB sub­sidiary Lanka Coal Com­pany (Pri­vate) Lim­ited have al­ways been awarded to one com­pany over the last nine years, amidst in­tense con­tro­versy, which even saw the Supreme Court ex­press its dis­plea­sure on one oc­ca­sion on the con­duct of of­fi­cials when award­ing ten­ders. How­ever, the CEBEU stressed that there are no per­sonal ben­e­fits for its mem­bers from the LCLTGEP it is back­ing.

Since the CEB en­gi­neers have so far re­fused to award ten­ders based on the ap­proved no-coal LCLTGEP, the tax­pay­ers had by last Novem­ber in­curred Rs.50.8 bil­lion in losses due to cost es­ca­la­tions from sourc­ing costly emer­gency power and since then has been in­cur­ring Rs.3.43 bil­lion in losses per month, ac­cord­ing to the PUCSL es­ti­mates.

The PUCSL and in­de­pen­dent ex­perts have voiced con­cerns over a power cri­sis emerg­ing over the com­ing three years if the CEB does not ten­der the power plants listed in the ap­proved LCLTGEP. How­ever, Power and Re­new­able En­ergy Min­istry Sec­re­tary Dr. Suren Batagoda, who too had shared this view, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial min­istry doc­u­ments, this month re­verted his po­si­tion, say­ing that there is no im­pend­ing power cri­sis.

The PUCSL has called on the gov­ern­ment to change the struc­ture of the power in­dus­try if the CEB is un­able to fol­low through the ap­proved LCLTGEP, while the CEBEU, as part of its trade union ac­tion, is call­ing for the re­place­ment of key staff mem­bers in the PUCSL with “ex­pe­ri­enced and hon­est pro­fes­sion­als not hav­ing vested in­ter­est”. If the gov­ern­ment won’t meet the de­mands of the CEBEU, it is will­ing to es­ca­late trade union ac­tion, the let­ter said.

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