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We recall that countrywide black out on February 25.  Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called for a report into the incident. We were informed that the reason why we were kept in the dark, or rather plunged into it, was because of a lightning strike on the Polpitiya-Kolonnawa transmission line. True to form, the Government has told us the truth; albeit, only half of it. What really happened and what does this spell for the future of the nation?

Of the events that unfolded last week, Managing Director of Resources Management Associates (Private) Limited, Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya who is an expert on the subject  was of the view that it was the result of a crisis in power-system protection. The design of the automatic protection system must be looked at as the maintenance and upkeep of it may have been lacking, he observed.

He opined that the information and details contained in the investigation reports compiled by the committees appointed to look into such incidents, firstly, are never made public, as the reports are hushed up, and secondly, their content is not discussed by the likes of technical persons, engineers, academics and electricity industry professionals.

“A natural cause, which is the first event, on one line boomeranged or cascaded into a complete national blackout. The secondary event should not have happened. Generally, in advanced countries, a national blackout would take place only once in every 20 years. Sri Lanka has completed the grid coverage, yet we have been unable to deliver reliable electricity. The Norochcholai coal power plant was shut down for two days. There was a delay in restoration”, he lamented. He recalled many blackouts of the past that lasted many hours.

He further explained, ‘In 2009, there was a 10-hour blackout. I chaired the committee that was appointed. It was hushed up. None of the recommendations were implemented. The report regarding what happened in 2015 September was shelved and never published. This is not the way to run a technical subject’.
The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) is the watchdog of the electricity industry and heard nothing from them, Dr. Siyambalapitiya stated adding that the PUCSL should have a public hearing while the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL) should conduct a public seminar.

Chief Executive Officer and Executive Secretary of the IESL, Engineer Dr. Jagath Peiris said that the IESL had no official stance yet, regarding the matter.

“We must see whether the matter really needs attention. We have not done a detailed study. The section of electrical engineers in the IESL has a committee which discusses such matters in their forums. There is no official information yet. This could be a common accident where there is an upsurge in the electric current, where the design for safety fails and things then go beyond that. This is unforeseen. There are unbearable costs involved which we just cannot manage,” he remarked.

Deputy Director General of the PUCSL, Gamini Herath spoke of the need for a long- term programme to address the root causes.
“Generally when such events take place, a report is called from the CEB. In this case we are going to call for one. The report should tell us what happened, the main reason, the other reasons, and how things were restored. We then study it. We will look for aspects in it which warrant further investigation. We then recruit an expert to do so. Blackouts and system outages must be minimized,” he mentioned.

Chief Secretary of the National Electricity Workers’ Association, Committee Member and Convener of the Ceylon Electricity Board Joint Trade Union Alliance and General Secretary of Ceylon Electricity Board/Lanka Electrical Employees’ Union, Ranjan Jayalal explained that the present situation and latest incident, proved that there was a need to establish several additional power plants for standby purposes to address such a situation.
He added that there was however no such plan afoot to establish several such power plants.

He noted that the Norochcholai coal power plant had broken down for various reasons on over 30 occasions since its inception.
Chairman of the CEB, Anura Wijepala, Director of the CEB, Sulakshana Jayawardena, Additional Secretary of the CEB, Merill Gunathilake and Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy, Dr. B.M. Suren Batagoda were not available for a comment.