Norochcholai Debacle Continues

By Camelia Nathaniel

With hydro storage at just 20% and consistent breakdowns at the Norochcholai Lakwijaya coal power station, the country is poised to have to endure electricity cuts in the near future, with no respite in sight, warn Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) engineers.
The Lakwijaya Power Plant in Norochcholai has been ridden with problems since it was first commissioned in March 2011, casting shadow over hopes of achieving power efficiency with a 900MW input of power from this plant, by the end of this year (2014).
The coal power plant has broken down around 26 times since its commissioning in March 2011, and the frequency of the break downs is increasing, casting serious doubt about its viability.

Furthermore, it is learned that while the CEB speaks often of 900 MW addition to the national grid through Norochcholai , engineers charge that the transmission substation in Anuradhapura is still not complete, which means transmission lines are not geared to accommodate 900 MW of power, even if it were generated.
The question remains; how is it possible to move on to the second and third phases, when the first stage of this trouble ridden coal power plant is in jeopardy?

The practice worldwide is to have mechanical engineers operate coal power plants as its function depends of machines, but in the case of Norochcholai, due to the disputes between the electrical engineers and the mechanical engineers, dominant electrical engineers are controlling the operations and this has resulted in claims from mechanical engineers that they are being sidelined.

The Norochcholai coal power plant commenced operations under its former DGM Saliya Panditharatne, who is a mechanical engineer, and apart from initial problems at start-up, only minor tripping problems were reported from Norochcholai. During his tenure, the level of efficiency was at 70% . It is reported however that under the current DGM the efficiency level has been at around 30%.
During the first half of 2013, the Lakwijaya Power Plan reportedly shut down for a period of 30 days, it was shut down for a further 105 days during the latter half of the same year.

Of this period, the plant was continuously shut for 28 days of annual maintenance, and power was purchased primarily through thermal sources during this time, causing huge losses to the CEB.
It is reported that the former DGM had advised the CEB management to schedule annual maintenance before April, as there was a good water harvest during that period and the CEB could have supplemented power requirement through hydro power, but the management had instead opted to schedule annual maintenance in August, at which time thermal power would have to used to compensate for the shortfall caused by the closure of Norochcholai.

Having the CEB continually opt for thermal power despite alternatives, raised concerns once again, and relating to the existence of an oil mafia. Thermal power had initially been set at Rs. 9.00 but with other additional charges it was estimated at Rs. 12.00, while the selling price of a unit of coal power was set at Rs. 18.00. However with the closure of the thermal power plant, each unit of power had to be obtained through thermal sources, at a cost of Rs. 28 on average, resulting in a loss to the CEB of around Rs. 10.00 per unit.
It is also ironic that in spite of a group of around 70 engineers being sent to China between March and June last year for training to handle the second stage of operation, at a speculated cost of Rs. 5 million per person, internal sources say that the group of engineers were not given any hands on training as anticipated, but were instead taken on site seeing tours around China, housed at luxury hotels, and afforded a grand holiday, during which it is reported that they also received many expensive gifts including mobile phones, laptops and cash of Rs. 500,000.00 each.

In spite of this extravagant spending, these engineers have failed to tackle any of the technical issues that have arisen at the plant, and it is reported that even the second stage of Norochcholai is already showing signs of failure, with leaks already detected even before its commissioning.

CEB dismisses this waste as minor expenditure
- Bandula Chandrasekara, Advisor To the National Consumer Movement

The normal defect liability period is one year after completion of a project. They are liable to repair and make good all defects appearing during the DLP; however this is now not applicable to Norochcholai, which is something that is not understood. The normal procedure is that the engineer must give the completion certificate after complete tests are performed. However we understand the completion tests were not allowed to be run, and with the urgent need of the plant, the plant was put to operation without all the tests. Political interference has been prevalent at all stages of contract.  It is also unclear if proper defects lists are prepared from time to time and informed to the contractor by the engineer, as the engineer of the project was changed periodically.
Furthermore, it is baffling to note that while the contractor is the one who provided training to all the operators at this station, the contractor is now blaming the operators for many of the defects due to bad operation by CEB personnel.

From the start the Chinese were aiming at obtaining a maintenance contract at a very high cost. This was not allowed as the cost was very high. This led to them handling the defects of the plant in a haphazard manner, resulting in repeated failures at the plant.
Everyone agrees that the manufacture of this plant and the installation of it have been at very poor quality.
A young firm with very little design experience is supposed to have designed the plant and the installation, and this has also contributed to the present situation.

In the name of ‘part soft loan’ the Chinese give contract to these new companies, for them to learn the processes. China has some of the best high quality, high efficient plants in operation in their country; but in this case, this plant was just given to this inexperienced company to learn at a cost.

The internal fights between the mechanical engineers and the majority electrical engineers were successfully used by the contractors to put the blame on the CEB for bad operation.
Many Project Mangers at the CEB were suddenly removed from the site and the project. Even the Mechanical DGM at the plant was removed at the protest from electrical engineers.

The whole project suffered many problems from the beginning. Many Senior Engineers do say the plant is good and the functioning is good to please the decision makers who grant extensions of service or who helped with their promotion and many other benefits they receive from time to time like vehicles, trips abroad, scholarships etc.
Many staff working in the plant keep their mouth shut due to fear of repercussion. Getting the truth or the real situation is very difficult. This is one of the main concerns of some of the engineers who have much experience in construction operation and maintenance of thermal power plants at the CEB.

When Sri Lanka can get out of this corruption crisis, it is then that we can have an improvement in the country’s economy.
The Sunday Leader reliably learns that during the first six months of last year, the Norochcholai coal power plant had been closed for 32 days, while during the second half of last year it had been closed for periods of between 90 to 100 days.
Meanwhile the Lakwijaya Power Plant in Norochcholai has been shut down for six days this year, costing the CEB a colossal Rs. 432 million to purchase power from thermal sources, in order to bridge the shortfall caused by closure.

For every day that the coal power plant is shut down the CEB has to spend Rs. 72 million to purchase power from thermal power plants.

Furthermore each start up alone costs Rs. 26 million, adding to the losses. Within the past 24 days, the CEB has incurred a loss of Rs. 104 million in four start ups, due to the plant having been shut down four times during this period.

For a 300 MW coal power capacity plant, the start-up costs is Rs. 26 million, and each day it generates 300,000 KWH of power per hour. If the plant runs for a whole day it can produce 7.2 million KWH. An hour after start up the cost per unit is Rs. 86.66, and if the plant runs continuously for a whole day it would cost Rs. 3.61 per unit. Likewise the longer the plant runs once start up takes place the lesser the cost per unit.

During the tenure of the former DGM, the plant always ran, even at half capacity for the three month duration, while every six months is when it needs servicing. However during the present DGM’s tenure the plant has had seven start ups during a six month period. According to the engineers, the main reason for the breakdowns was the seepage of steam water into the treated water.
The irony is that while there is such a huge waste of funds and resources, the CEB does not seem to care less, and they dismiss this colossal waste as minor expenditure.

5 Comments for “Norochcholai Debacle Continues”

  1. Gunda

    We see more information forthcoming from AGM( Gen) of CEB. Very good comments have been made by former Chairman CEB and by the Advisor to the NCM which seem to be very true. These were anticipated at the time of planning the plant. But the issues were not addressed properly. I am sure if the CEB engineers are given a free hand they will get this plant going and see that such problems will not occur in the other two stages. Will the Decision makers allow this to happen is a big question. Hope the country will come out of this dirty problem soon. Replacement of all the Condenser cooling tubes will be one of the first things to do.

  2. Dammika

    CEB says power cuts will be avoided and tariff will not be increased. They are hiding from the people that all these extra costs will be forwarded to PUCSL when they request the next tariff increase. Todays due to the failure of CEB engineers to maintain cheap plants they are operating 110MW Gas turbine and 115MW Gas turbine on base load, producing only 2kWh from one liter of diesel and running 24hours a day. WHAT A WASTE! Politicians do not understand these facts. They are deceived by CEB engineers and country suffers and the poor masses will have to bear all these costs. Shame to all Engineers working at CEB who draws bulky salaries and fail to perform. The country does not know that the 55MW steam turbine that has failed at Kelanitissa was repaired by them at a staggering cost of 1 billion rupees just last year!!!

  3. sukirichuti

    There appears to be recurrent problems with the Norachcholai Plant and as a result thermal power had to be obtained at a very high price. Are these developments sign of further increase in the CEB bills to consumers? The Government does not have capable and knowledgeable persons to appoint as Minister of Power & Energy.

  4. gamarala

    It is politics that permeates all national enterprises and ruins them.
    The agreement should have withheld a percentage of costs from the supplier for an agreed period after commencing operations,until satisfactory running was achieved.
    This plant should have been entirely under mechanical engineers until satisfactory generation when electrical enginieers should have become involved in transmission and utilisation.

  5. NAK

    The bottom line is if Norochchoali is allowed to operate normally. Say good bye to PP and for electrical engineers of the CEB that will be like harkiri. The only solution to this problem is to totally ban PP. we’ll experience some power cuts for some time but the malady will be cured.

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