Norochcholai Always Breakdown CEB losses 6.5 Billion Rupees And Counting
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The repeated failure of the country’s first coal power plant in Norochcholai has compelled the government to publicly acknowledge that there are issues related to the quality of the Chinese built plant.
However, the bigger problem faced by the energy sector is in bridging the current energy deficit due to the continuous breakdowns of the plant.
The Lakvijaya plant in Norochcholai is fast becoming a burden to the national economy rather than an asset given the constant breakdowns resulting in 6.5 Billion rupees in losses to the already cash strapped Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
The CEB incurs a daily loss of Rs. 200 million when the Lakvijaya plant is not operational.
The plant has so far recorded 12 breakdowns since it was commissioned in March last year.
The latest breakdown in the plant was on August 9 when the 300MW Lakvijaya plant automatically shut off following the tripping of the Veyangoda-Puttalam 220kV transmission line.
Although the CEB hoped to resume operations of the plant last Sunday, another technical failure forced the plant to be shut down for another two to three week period.
The CEB states that the Lakvijaya power plant does not have a proper safe shut down system that is usually in place in other coal plants.
“When there is a tripping in any other plant, there has to be a safe shut down mechanism, but there is no such system at Lakvijaya and it resulted in a technical failure that is still being rectified,” a CEB engineer explained.
He pointed out that certain parts in the plant were affected due to the lack of a safe shut down mechanism.
The plant also failed last month due to a rupture in the steam supply tubes in the boiler economizer forcing the CEB to impose three-hour power cuts for four days in certain parts of the country.
The first phase of the Lakvijaya coal power plant, which started operations in March 2011, has not been in operation for 35 days last year due to the failures costing the CEB a mammoth 6.5 billion rupees.
The China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CMEC), which built the power plant, has been accused of using substandard equipment and certain sections of the power station have even started to corrode due to the lack of a proper anti-corrosive system.
The Chinese government thorough the Exim Bank of China provided US$ 455 million for the construction of the first phase of the Lakvijaya plant. Work on the second phase of the plant that is to add another 300MW is currently underway.
The CEB would have to ensure that the second and third phases of the project are constructed satisfactorily in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the plant given the energy crisis faced by the country.
CEB Deputy Chairman, Anura Wijeypala, who is an engineer by profession explained that the Chinese contractor was assigned to get the machinery and equipment required for the plant according to the agreement between the government and the Chinese. “Therefore, tenders were not called as usual and CMEC gave sub contracts and got down the machinery and equipment for the project,” he said.
However, Wijeypala noted that the CEB’s powers to intervene in the entire project were limited according to the agreement.
He explained that the CEB officials were only able to inspect the project with limited powers.
“The selection and installation of the equipment were up to the Chinese company,” he said.
“Although there was continuous monitoring on the part of the CEB, it was within a limited framework,” he added.
The government has informed the Chinese contractor that it is not pleased with the fact the plant has not operated properly in the first year of operation.
“The contractor has been informed that the government is not happy with the construction and equipment,” Wijeypala said.
He pointed out that certain sections in the plant have started to corrode since the contractor has not put in place any corrosion protection.
Nevertheless, the CEB Deputy Chairman observed that following lengthy discussions, the Chinese contractor has finally agreed to address the concerns raised by the CEB.
“The contractor is now addressing the corrosion issue with the help of Dock Yard. The defective valves in the firefighting valves are also being replaced,” he said.
According to Wijeypala, the problem in the Lakvijaya power plant was not entirely due to the main equipment, but due to defects in the system design. He also noted that the plant needs to be installed with a safe shut down mode in the event of a tripping in a transmission line.
Be that as it may, the CEB after learning a bitter lesson from the first phase of the Lakvijaya power plant has now changed its approach in the construction of the second phase.
“We have put in place a strong team of engineers to monitor the equipment and construction to ensure that the problems faced in the first plant would not re-occur,” Wijeypala said.
He pointed out that although the CEB has limited powers according to the agreement, it would use other rights following the failures in the first phase.
“We expect the second phase to be better,” he said.
The Chinese contractor, it is learnt, is now in the process of selecting better auxiliary equipment for the second phase, which is to be completed by October 2013.
The third phase is to be completed by July 2014.
Once completed the entire power plant is expected to add 900MW to the national grid.
Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka says that while some strategies in constructing the power plant has created practical issues, the cost incurred in repairs would be minimal since the breakdowns have taken place within the defect liability period. The two-year defect liability period would continue till September 2013.
“The Lakvijaya plant is yet an incomplete project and there are two more phases to be completed,” he said, adding that according to the plan, there are to be four transmission lines from the plant that would connect to Veyangoda and Anuradhapura. “There is so far only one transmission line,” he said.
However, Ranawaka also noted that the technical issues would be overcome in the second phase.
The Minister blames the delay in implementing the alternative power projects in the country for the current power crisis.
“The CEB is facing a critical issue due to the constant breakdowns at Lakvijaya as well as the shortfall in the country’s energy requirement,” Ranawaka said.
The CEB last year had expected to receive 1,500 energy units from the Lakvijaya power plant, but had received only 1,000 units. The shortfall had to be met through expensive thermal power.
“We targeted on getting 1,800 Gigawatt hours from the plant, but we have not received it. We will know at the end of the year exactly how much power the plant has generated,” Ranawaka said.
The construction of coal power plants in the country, as part of the long-term generation plan, was first mooted by then Energy Minister J. R. Jayewardene in 1977. The decision to set up a coal power plant was decided in 1985 and the locations of Trincomalee, Mawanella and Puttalam were identified for the project.
The project however was delayed for several decades by successive governments due to various reasons including protests by the people.
The Lakvijaya coal power plant finally commenced construction in 2007 due to the realization that the country was heading towards a massive power crisis.
Nevertheless, the Lakvijaya coal power plant has become a problem to the government than a solution.
The Norochcholai coal power plant has broken down on 12 occasions since its commissioning on March 22, 2011.
Amongst the breakdowns, there have been five major breakdowns that have lasted for over 100 hours and in some instances resulting in power cuts.
Following is the list of large-scale breakdowns of the plant:
September 28, 2011 (Problem in the turbine system valve)
– 593 hours
January 5, 2012 (Coal mill fire) – 122 hours
January 18, 2012 (Technical issue) – 702 hours
July 21, 2012 (Leaking of a boiler) – 114.8 hours
August 9, 2012 (Tripping of high tension transmission wire)
The other seven breakdowns have been less than 100 hours.