In the wake of yet another debilitating power crisis as experienced in the country earlier this week which left smartphone users in the urban metropolises bemoaning their inability to download the latest app, and the country’s middle class masses groping in the dark for a candle, the government announced its intention to construct nine power plants.

Accordingly, the plants would utilise a mix of hydro, liquefied natural gas (LNG), thermal, wind and solar power to avert a future crisis precipitated due to drought and the much- maligned constant breakdown of the Norochcholai coal power plant.

While doomsday prophesiers were quick to portend blackouts as early as 2018, the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy relayed that the crisis has been controlled
and issues being addressed.

Energy experts warned that Sri Lanka would be heading in a disastrous direction if the government failed to draw up long-term power generation plans and implement them within the next two years.

Sri Lanka’s energy sector has been facing quite a few lows owing to problems pertaining to the frequent shutdowns of the Norochcholai power plant and the adverse weather patterns that have affected the hydro power generation over the past few months.

Energy Consultant Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya said that the country’s energy demand had
seen a 10% increase during the 10 months of this year compared to the corresponding period of the last year.

The drought situation followed by the shutdown of the Norochcholai power plant has resulted in a double blow to the country’s fluctuating energy sector.

Siyambalapitiya explained that the issue with Norochcholai was in its design. “We have to focus more in the long run. As far as Norochcholai is concerned there is a fault in the design. It cannot safely shut down without undergoing damages,” he revealed.The plant generates more than 50% of the country’s power and modifying the plant would mean that it would have to be shut down.

“Whether we like it or not, we need to modify the design. It cannot be shut down due to the poor hydro situation,” Siyambalapitiya said.

This is not the first time that the plant was shut down due to malfunction. It went down for the same reason in September last year and in February and March this year.

Despite the letdown, Siyambalapitiya points out that Norochcholai had saved the country from many dire situations and probable blackouts during drought situations
in the past.

“We did not have rain for approximately four months. In the past if we didn’t have rains for four months, we would have had power-cuts two months into the drought. The country managed with Norochcholai,” he pointed out.

“Earlier when a similar situation arose we managed through diesel power-plants at an enormous cost. But this time we managed with Norochcholai at a production cost of Rs. 5.50 as opposed to Rs. 22,” Siyambalapitiya added.

He said that the power plant has been doing its job as far as the cost is concerned but with shortcomings in terms of the technical aspect.

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had come up with a proposal to establish eight new power plants in various parts of the island to address the increasing power demands which is expected to increase by  1,200MW by the year 2020.

The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) will be overseeing the entire process. Accordingly, the commission has requested the CEB to provide the basic details such as the locations, budget estimates and the nature of power plants at the earliest in order to kick-start the process immediately.

The Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy explained that in view of long-term power generation plans they were at present involved in the process of the preparation of bidding documents for the purpose of calling for tenders regarding procurements and the selection of contactors and developers for nine power plants.

Director (Development) of the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy, Sulakshana Jayawardena said that of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plants there will be a 300 megawatt (MW) one in Kerawalapitiya while of the wind power plants there will be a 100 MW one in Mannar. For thermal power plants there will be a 170 MW one in Hambantota while from the solar power plants there will be a 10 MW one in Valaichchenai with probable private sector involvement.

A 10 MW solar power plant will be set up in Polonnaruwa while a 100 MW one will function in Athumale, Siyambalanduwa, and Moneragala.

Of the hydro power plants there will be a 31 MW one in Moragolla (consultation stage), a 20 MW one in Sithawaka (consultation stage) and the Broadlands one in Yatiyantota, Sabaragamuwa. It will come under the Ceylon Electricity Board and is presently under construction and could be completed in 2017.

According to Jayawardena, there will also be a terminal facility either inside or outside the Colombo Port.

He said via the solar rooftop system project, anyone producing a surplus of power could sell it to the system and the Ministry would purchase it, in whereas way 200 MW are expected to be generated by 2020 and 800 MW by 2025.

“There is a probability of converting existing power plants into LNG and thermal ones. Regarding the solar power plant in Athumale, studies are being conducted to decide on the financial arrangements. Concerning the hydro power plant in Sithawaka, which the Cabinet has approved, the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau is being consulted. Demand site management programmes are also being implemented,” Jayawardena said.