Delay in building power plants: Looming power crisis next year

Dec 06, 2016 – Economists and electrical engineers are warning the government that there is a looming power crisis bubble which is expected to burst mid next year. With new industries, hotels, apartments and households requiring additional electricity, the present demand will increase by a sizable amount. In addition the ongoing rural electrification process too will add more pressure on the power supply sector.

Sri Lankan Generation demand is expected to grow at 5.5% per annum during 2015-2022 periods. While this growth rate is 3.6%, under the Demand Side Management (DSM) scenario. In addition, the peak demand is expected to grow at 4.4% per annum, while it is at 2.7% in the DSM case.

The installed capacity is 3,755 mw in 2015 and considering availability of 90% and excluding the NCRE plants, the firm available capacity is 2,986 megawatts.

“We have started informing the government there will be a crisis soon because of the delays in building the power plants,” said Kamani Jayasekara, Deputy General Manager, Transmission and Generation Planning of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) at a forum in Colombo recently.

Electricity demand was growing fast and the CEB needed time to plan for and build power plants in order to ensure an adequate, reliable supply of power at reasonable cost, she said. “Some plants are due for retirement so we need to add more capacity to the system.”

Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) too has warned that Sri Lanka is moving towards a major power crisis if appropriate action in not taken by 2018.

“Under drought conditions, even with planned plant additions, Sri Lanka faces energy capacity shortages in 2018-2019 and beyond,” PUCSL has told the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB)

PUCSL has stated that depending on the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant is not practical (due to its regular ‘black outs) and this in turn will lead to capacity shortages in 2018 and 2019.

Due to drought conditions planned plant additions too may be inadequate and new options should be perused.

CEB Engineers’ Union (CEBEU) official said that the main rescuer for any power crisis is the Norochchole power plant. “However when there is lighting and other natural breakdown the system generates an automatic single which ‘trips off’ the plant causing a breakdown that takes days to repair.

“The solution for this is to redo some of the transmission lines and this needs an investment of around Rs. 150 million.”

According to retired electrical engineer M. D. Fernando, Sri Lanka has been traditionally depending on hydro power. “However, today the present hydro power segment cannot be increased, due to all sources (rivers) being tapped to the maximum. Due to environmental constraints, mini hydros too are running into issues and will not see more of them in the future.”

He said that projects other sources of power like producing power from wind, burning of agricultural sources may not be the solution. He said that even the solar power generation option too will take time.

The government said it wants to have a natural gas plant instead of coal because of environmental considerations and the availability of natural gas deposits in the offshore Mannar Basin which can also be used as fuel for transport and other industries like fertilizer which are now imported.

The 130 MW Uma Oya and the 35 MW Broadlands Hydropower Projects fall within the 2017-2020 period of the CEB plan. “But these would take long long time to matetrialise.”

He said that tenders were called early last year but now only the tenders are being short listed. “These delays for reasons best known to the Power and Energy Ministry are uncalled for and aggravate the situation.”

He said that during the last government, the minister in charge of the subject did not renew the licenses of private sector companies that were generating power burning heavy fuel oil.

“This was very economical and I don’t know why the licenses of Aitken Spence, LTL, Hemas were not extended. “The power generated from them was around 264 megawatts and not extending their contracts by another 10 years is a huge loss.”

He said these some of these companies have sold their machinery overseas and have now exited from the power generating business.

He also said that subsequently under Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, the Ceylon Electricity Board purchased a 60 megawatt power plant and this was a step taken in the right direction. With Sampur Project called off it will further aggravate the power crisis. Fernando said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe is aware of the grave situation the country’s power sector is facing and is seriously looking at ways and means to overcome it. “We must be thankful for the Prime Minister’s initiatives that he is taking towards averting a crisis.”

However with no power plants or other major sources to add electricity to the national grid in the next year, Sri Lanka will be facing a major power crisis and the government may have to look at a short term solution for it until such time a long term solution is on the way.







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