CEB Blocks Wind Energy Expansion
By Dinouk Colombage
As the power crisis in Sri Lanka worsens, the importance of alternative energy becomes more apparent. Recently 30 megawatts of wind produced energy was added to the national grid, taking the total output past 60 megawatts.
However, despite the success shown in the early stages of implementation, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has halted issuing licenses for providing this energy. Manjula Perera, CEO of WindForce (Pvt.) Ltd., explained that for the past year and a half the CEB has not allowed them to expand their output.
“When they suspended issuing of the licences we were told it was because they wanted a Danish company to evaluate the projects”, he said. However, the report has been completed and despite the findings being positive the CEB has not resumed issuing licences, according to Perera.
CEB chairman, Dr Wimaladharma Abeywickrama, said that they had halted the issuing of these licences as they needed to explore the success of the project so far. He refused to comment on when they would start issuing licences again.
Perera said that the biggest obstacle facing wind energy in the country was the issuing of a licence. “We applied for a licence in 2008 and it took us over a year to be granted one. We had to seek approval from 24 different authorities; the construction of the 20 megawatt plant took us only 10 months.” He added that they now hoped to reduce the timeframe on construction to only eight months, but said no further progress in the field could be made unless further licences were issued. “The ongoing projects are a success and studies have shown that with the current system in place we have a potential of adding up to 600 megawatts of energy to the national grid”, Perera explained.
One of the biggest issues facing renewable energy in the world is the high cost; a 30 megawatt plant which has a lifespan of 20 years would cost Rs. 7.2 billion, according to Perera. Ironically the Norochcholai power plant, which cost Rs. 59 billion to construct and cost the CEB a further Rs. 2.5 billion last year due to breakdowns, produces 300MW. Furthermore, the Norochcholai power plant has continued to break down this year resulting in the CEB being forced to impose power cuts.
According to Perera with the installation of wind energy plants the only costs the government would incur would be the energy tariffs.
The flat tariff for this energy is Rs. 19.45, while it would be reduced to Rs. 12 in eight years’ time and a further reduction would be imposed four years after that.
While Perera admitted that wind energy alone could not sustain the entire national grid, it would work well alongside other power supplies.
Currently the government has said that it hoped 20% of its national grid would be powered by wind energy by 2020, as of 2012 7% of the energy is being produced.
Perera explained that this target could be met if the companies were not forced to seek approval from 24 different authorities. While concerns exist over the specialisation of such a field, Perera explained that all of their employees have been trained at the German Technical College. “It is not a big issue, if they have a basic knowledge we can train them to operate the machinery”, he explained.
Environmentalists, while supportive of the project, have expressed reservations over the amount of land needed for a large scale wind project. Dr Jehan Fernando, environmental scientist, explained that large clear areas would be required for these wind turbines to operate properly.
However, Perera said that only 2 ½ acres would be needed for a 1.5 megawatt turbine. “Currently our 10 megawatt plant is using 7 such plots. The best areas for this wind energy are those with flat empty land. We do not need to cut down any forests.” He further added that they had earmarked Puttlam and Mannar as two of the best locations for wind energy in the country. “We need 3m/s of wind to start the turbines and then a further 12m/ s to begin generating power.
Those areas have proven that there is sufficient wind to continually produce energy”, he explained.
Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Power and Energy, said that the government welcomed the use of renewable energy. “It is important that we begin looking at other alternatives for energy. We have seen what can happen if we are overly reliant on a single form of energy”, he said.
Ranawaka refused to comment on the issuing of the licences saying it was the responsibility of the CEB.
With the growing costs surrounding the production of coal and thermal energy, the introduction of wind energy is a welcome relief.
However, support from the government for such ventures would need to be increased if it is to be a success.