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Is Power And Energy Sector In A mess?

by G. A. D. Sirimal

Coal power plant in Norochcholai

There appears to be a situation where the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) does not seem to agree with the generation proposal put forward by the Public Utilities Commission Sri Lanka (PUCSL). Readers will recall when the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) met the President Maithripala Sirisena about a month back and he approved the Least Cost, Long Term Generation Plan (LCLTGP) where coal generation was included. Strangely the present news item says ‘the PUCSL approved 242Mw of Major Hydro, 215 Mini Hydro, 1,389Mw of Solar, 1,205 of Wind, 85Mw. Bio-mass, 4,800 of Natural Gas (LNG), 330Mw of furnace oil based and 105Mw Gas Turbine to be added to the electricity generation system in the long term of 20 years. No mention has been made on Coal Generation.

Based on this plan of PUCSL, the CEBU in scathing attack is saying ‘Once the final recommended plan is submitted, PUCSL cannot change the plan on its own. But that is exactly what they have done this time. They have manipulated the generation plan to get ‘desired’ results. We know and we even warned the Chairman of the Commission by way of a six-page letter in April this year about the drawbacks in the plan. Our fears were proved correct. PUCSL has clearly overstepped the legal mandate given to them in the Act and in the approved planning code of their own. We do not accept the PUCSL plan as both in the substance and procedure are wrong’.

What other competent body could formulate a Least Cost Long Term Plan other than the CEB, which has experienced engineers with wide knowledge on the subject. It would be necessary to keep the PUCSL and those interested in the subject to mention the efforts and steps taken by the CEB in training engineers to specialize in this field. As far back as early 1980s, on the invitation of the World Bank a young engineer – Dr. P. N. Fernando was sent to study and get acquainted with the WASP computer module, which is designed to find the economically optimal generation expansion policy for an electric utility system, within user-specified, constrains.

It utilizes probabilistic estimation of systems – production cost, unnerved energy cost and reliability, linear programming, technique for determining optional dispatch policy satisfying exogenous constrains on environmental emissions, fuel availability, and electricity generation by some plants and a dynamic methods of optimization for comparing the cost alternatives system operation policies.

This programme is updated regularly taking into consideration several factors. On his return, Dr. P. N. Fernando set up a Generation Plan division in the CEB and trained others. Hence, it will be seen, the effort CEB has taken to have a LCLTGP scientifically prepared, keeping in mind the political impact, the consumer who looks for an affordable tariff and also a marginal profit to meet its own expenditure and future commitments.

From the Generation plan submitted by PUCSL, it will be seen more reliance is given to Solar and Wind generation. In this regard several experts and consultants, who cannot be swayed by outside influences – such as Prof. Kumar David, a power engineer, Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya, Consultant, Energy Economist have persistently written convincing letters, and also at seminars, the inclusion of Coal Power Generation, but seem to fall on the deaf ears of the Minister for Power and Energy Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and PUCSL.

I   remember reading an article by Antonio Lopez, Energy Consultant of Asian Development Bank (ADB) where he spoke of unreliability of Wind and Solar energy, due to vagaries of weather patterns and vehemently supported inclusion of Coal Power Generation, especially in developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. It is reported Bangladesh has already commenced work in setting up a 1320Mw. Plant. It is very unfortunate, the government decided to set up PUCSL and made CEB to be dictated, when it has no experts or knowledgeable persons to match CEB experts, especially on Generation Planning.

It is suggested, the Ministry for Power and Energy, move in the matter of excluding CEB seeking the approval of PUCSL and go back to the earlier days where the CEB prepared the LTLCGP and got the approval of the Ministry. The advantage CEB had was the Minister P. Dayaratne was an Electrical Engineer and the Secretary, Prof. K. K. Y. W. Perera, an Electrical Engineer, who has recently been awarded the highest honour for services rendered in the field of electricity. They being professionals, keeping clear of politics and to serve the nation, were able to guide the CEB.  There were other Secretaries with management skills and with their experience guided the CEB.

It is a pity the government which boasts of a plan to set up industrial estates in the twenty five districts and open the doors for foreign entrepreneurs to invest here has not given serious thought to this sector – Electricity – so vital for socio-development of the country. Or, is that the government expects the investors to come with their own generators, as was reported sometime back of the Chinese Company proposing to set up a 400Mw power plant to cater to their proposed Industrial Estate at Hambantota.

Finally, is the PUCSL overriding the decision of the of the President who, as stated earlier, approved the LCLTGP, where Coal Power was included.

Vision without action is a day dream. Action without vision is a nightmare or hallucination.

G. A. D. Sirimal (SLAS) is a retired Former Asst. Secretary of the Ministry for Power and Energy.

3 Comments for “Is Power And Energy Sector In A mess?”

  1. Which sector isn’t in a absolute mess. When we get in the morning the first thing we expect is that an announcement of a discovery of a fraud, misappropriation or shoddy work on a project, with the subsequent loss to the public and an increase, as a consequent, of public debt. This burden will be on the shoulder of the hapless people by increase in taxes, and the cunning of politicians and their henchmen. This country struggles to see justice done in a reasonable time, and it is very clear to the tactics allowed to delay indefinitely to reach this goal.

  2. Gunda

    Giving due respect to the writer I like to remind him that we are about 35 years from the time Dr. PN Fernando started the LTGEP. There were modifications several due to the inadequacy of this program as CEB was predominantly hydro based. The Electricity sector has developed in these 35 years and most of the countries now are moving away from Coal and go for more distributed Generation by Solar and The Wind together with other sources of Renewable energy. With modern forecasting facility, these intermittent Energies can be well predicted. With the distributed Generation the variability is also much reduced.
    There is certain Government set Energy Policy to move for more Renewable which must be strictly followed. Not taking the costs of Externalities and assuming erroneous fuel prices led to the CEB’s base case option with more and more Coal. This, when adjusted, resulted in another no Coal option prepared by CEB Generation planning itself. And this plan was approved. The ineffective performsance of our Norochcholai Coal power plant together with a bad EIA report of the Sampur Coal power lead the Cancilation of the low efficient Coal plant. These are factors that go against future Coal plants. Supercritical Coal plants are very much costly in the long run compared to Many Renewables. Many Levelized Cost of Energy studies now reveals that Many of the Renewables are much cheaper than Coal. This has been confirmed by the approved LTGEP.
    We are very sure the Engineers in CEB are the cream of our nation who enter into CEB will be able to go by this plan and prove to the world that we can effectively move out of Coal. Soon the Storage Battery costs will also move down so that Grid storage and behind the meter storage will become a reality as it is happening in Australia.
    Over to you the competent young Engineers in CEB to implement the LTGEP that is now approved.

  3. Eng.M.V.R.Perera

    There have been 33 rti issued on the minister of Power and renewable energy which he has not yet answered when he answered them by the 28th of August 2017 all ,the above information requested by Mr Sirimal will be answered and it will be proved that solar power in Sri Lanka is a colossal fraud on we the people and the only electricity solution is to have BOT Coal power projects as base load with competitive biding and a fair pricing formula and economical Hydro with large reservoirs as peaking power for all developing and developed countries are burning coal compare the carbon emission per person per year Sri Lanka 0.61, USA 19.78,Singapore 31.41 as such we have enough carbon space to have may coal fueled power stations as necessary

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