Don’t keep people in the dark, tell the truth and impose power cuts: CEB engineers
From The Sunday Times
The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers’ Union has urged the Government to tell the people the truth about the multiple crises in the electricity sector and impose daily power cuts for at least one hour.
“There are plans to buy another 100MW of emergency power. We are at a critical juncture. Even if 100MW of power is procured next week, its transportation and installation will take another three to four weeks. Before that, at this rate of usage, water levels of Laxapana and Samanalawewa reservoirs will drop drastically, endangering power supply to the South and water supply to Colombo,” CEBEU President Athula Wanniarachchi said.
He said the union believed the best option was to tell the people about the magnitude of the crisis and begin power cuts for at least one hour a day. “If that decision is delayed, 100MW of emergency power will not be enough. It might end up with 500MW of emergency power. It may also cost around 10-15 billion rupees to buy emergency power of 100MW for three months. If the requirement increases to 500MW for six to seven months, it will have a direct impact, not only on the CEB, but the entire economy,” he warned.
He said that at this critical moment, political leaders should go beyond narrow party agendas and unite for the sake of the country. “If power cuts have to be imposed, it is due to the bad decisions of successive governments,” he said.
According to the engineers’ union leader, the water levels in major reservoirs are receding more rapidly than anticipated. The use of hydropower plants is restricted due to water being preserved for the next agricultural cycle. Additionally, several cities and townships are dependent on the Victoria, Moussekele and Castlereigh reservoirs for drinking water.
“During the dry season, salt water enters into the river and we have to release water from the Moussekele and Castlereigh reservoirs to avoid this,” Mr Wanniarachchi said. “So the last drop of water has to be kept for drinking, not for electricity.”
To make things worse, the support from “embedded generation” or mini hydro — which has an installed capacity of 240 megawatts — is now almost zero, he said. He said wind power generation (which provides 10 percent of the supply) was also minimal during the prevailing season. With outages at the Lakvijaya power plant in Norochcholai after the recent blackouts, the hydropower plants were used more than expected, thereby causing a worsening of the situation.
Meanwhile, due to high temperatures and dry weather, daily electricity usage by consumers has increased sharply from 35 gigawatt hours to 42 gigawatt hours. “Under the CEB’s previous Long Term Generation Plan, it had been expected to generate power from the 500 megawatt Sampur coal power plant by 2014,” Mr. Wanniarachchi said. “As the Indians are pushing for a low quality, low reliability Indian technology, for which the CEB cannot agree, this project has been dragging for the past ten years and its future is also very uncertain.”
Mr. Wanniarachchi said a bad decision taken by the Government was to abandon the retired diesel power plants in 2015– that is, the 100MW Puttalam, 100MW Embilipitiya, 25MW Matara, 20MW Sapugaskanda and 50MW barge power plants at the Port. “At the end of their power purchase agreements (PPAs) we have already paid for their investment so we should have purchased or hired them at a low value,” Mr. Wanniarachchi said. “At that time, the owners did not have any demand for the plants and the only potential buyer was the CEB.”