by Hemantha Withanage
Environmental Foundation Ltd.
We refer to Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya’s article ‘Low Rainfall not the reason for power cuts’ that appeared in the ‘The Island’ of 21st August 2001 wherein he has accused Environmental Foundation Limited for obstructing the construction of power plants. While thanking Dr. Siyambalapitiya for updating the reasons for power cuts, we wish to place before the public the actual facts and relevant data about the power crisis.
We agree with Dr. Siyambalapitiya who correctly pointed out that low rainfall is not the reason for the present power cut. According to our information a 150 MW fiat power plant at Kelanitissa is not operating due to a recent breakdown. Also another 2 x 20 MW power plant is not in operation at Kelanitissa.
The total energy capacity lost due to these breakdowns is 190MW, which is about 75 per cent of the present shortage (according to Dr. Siyabalapitiya’s calculation).
Even though the CEB has promoted private fossil fuel power plants since 1996 everybody was aware that they failed due to the tender procedure and not because of the environmental lobby. Also, everybody was aware that the Aggriko was trying to use the electricity crisis to sign an agreement with the CEB to provide a unit for Rs. 13.50 even after getting free fuel. People are also aware that corruption led the CEB to interdict a few officers.
The Japanese OECF power plant and the AES Kelanitissa with a combined capacity of 300MW were also supposed to generate electricity by year 2000 but were delayed due to tender problems.
It is also a well known fact that the CEB will be the first as set to be privatised in the next privatisation wave under the IMF agreement and it has been deliberately bankrupted since 1996 to justify the privatisation.
Therefore Dr. Siyambalapitiya’s accusation cannot only be directed to the Bishop and Environmental Foundation but must encompass the CEB planners as well.
Further more, even if Upper Kotmale was not opposed by EFL on feasibility grounds it would have generated electricity only by year 2004 and the first phase of the coal power plant was supposed to generate electricity by year 2002.
Therefore it is too early for Dr. Siyambalapitiya to blame EFL and the Bishop for the present electricity crisis.
Though some people (including Dr. Siyambalapitiya) believe that coal is the cheapest source for electrical generation, recent studies have shown that natural gas is the best and cheapest.
In the face of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, the green house gas emissions will be restricted soon. Therefore the coal industry is already losing its markets in developed countries.
Power Plant Lost Capacity Reason
Fiat power plant 150 Breakdown
Kelanitissa 2 x 20 Breakdown
OECF plant 150 Delay in construction
AES Kelanitissa 150 Delay in construction
Therefore coal producers are now looking for developing countries who are still allowed to generate green house gases. Certain people who promote the coal power generation are the local agents for this new market. Australian Clean Coal Institute is one such entity, which looks for new markets in Sri Lanka and other third world countries.
However natural gas is becoming the world’s no 1 fossil fuel for generating electricity. Unfortunately, the Ceylon Electricity Board has so far not realised this.
Sri Lanka’s energy crisis is not the electricity crisis we face today. It is a very minor issue when compared to the lack of electricity for more than 50 per cent of the population.
They have no electricity from the national grid or from any other source. The real energy crisis is the mis-management of the entire energy sector.
In a real situation, biomass, fossil fuel and hydropower account for 70%, 25% and 5% of the energy respectively. Although this is the case, when compared with the efficiencies, they respectively give 38%, 25% and 37% of the energy. This does not contain solar energy, which is used for drying material (food and other stuff), use of gravity such as in the case of water distribution, use of animals in farming, transport etc.
Comparative analysis of various needs and the sources for such needs
Source: The Energy Crisis and solutions, Asoka Abayagunawardena
Cooking is again mostly dependent on biomass. Except in forest areas and some parts of the dry zone, firewood comes from the surroundings. Eighty per cent of the firewood normally comes from the surrounding.
Rubber tree 18%
Home gardens 28-33%
This means that the biomass is still not a burden to the forests in Sri Lanka except in the dry zone. Therefore it does not play a major political role such as fossil fuel and electricity.
Industries also mainly use biomass (about 70%) for their energy needs. Only 30% of the industries use electricity for their energy. They are also newly introduced industries.
Tea Factories 33%
Small Hotels 15%
Brick and tile factories 13%
Coconut industry 11%
Tobacco industry 10%
Rubber Industry 6%
source: The Energy Crisis and solutions, Asoka Abayagunawardena
Sixty five percent of the people still use kerosene for lighting purposes.
In most rural households only a TV and a few bulbs consume electricity. However only 30% of the generated electricity goes to the households. Another 30% goes to the commercial sector and the Industrial sector gets another 40%. About 50% of the households in Sri Lanka get electricity and out of that 70% of the people use electricity only for lighting. Seventy percent of the energy distributed to the households is consumed by 10% of the population. A rural household consumes only 40 units per month and a semi urban household consume 81 units and an urban household consume 104 units per month. This shows the unequal consumption due to unequal distribution of electricity.
This shows that Sri Lanka has forgotten most of the energy sources in the energy crisis. When solving the energy crisis electricity will play a major role but electricity is not the only solution.
However, the present priority of the CEB is coal in solving the electricity crisis. The recent thermal projects are the second priority. Unfortunately, natural gas or renewables are not in the CEB list.
In the coal vs natural gas debate their argument is that the unit cost of natural gas is higher than coal. Here they do not consider the environmental cost of coal.
The unit price of hydro is always cheap. Coal comes next. However, when considering the environmental pollution, coal will be more expensive than wind, solar and natural gas.
Though there is a lobby of Dr. Siyambalapitiya for Coal within the CEB, unfortunately natural gas lacks such a lobby. The high commission paid by the coal producers may be the reason for such a lobby.
Dr. Siyambalapitiya vehemently accused Environmental Foundation Ltd for blocking energy projects, which is not at all correct. If EFL is so powerful, people will not face these environmental problems today. EFL is a non-profit, public interest law group working for the conservation for the environment. Any success of EFL is the success of the Sri Lankan public.
EFL was not against using coal as a source but was against the construction of a coal power plant in Trincomalee on environmental grounds. The National Aquatic Resources Agency and many other environmentally concerned groups were also against this project. EFL took the CEB to courts regarding the approval process of Norochcholai and it is the CEB which stated that it did not wish to proceed with the Norochcholai coal power plant and would be looking for an alternative site.
It stated that they would not locate this plant as Norocchcholai due to the cabinet decision, which we never asked for.
Our only request was that the Central Environmental Authority be appointed as the Project Approving Agency because it has the capacity for monitoring. We stated that the Coast Conservation Department or the North-Western Provincial Environmental Authority has no capacity to monitor the project.
A coal power plant with a 900 MW capacity can be very highly polluting if no proper control measures are taken. The air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, ash dumping and release of hot water, are serious environmental hazards from a coal plant. Can anybody say that asking for better monitoring and control is not important?
The facts on Upper Kotmale given by Dr. Siyambalapitiya are totally incorrect and misleading. The project was rejected twice by the Central Environmental Authority and once by the Secretary to the Ministry of Environment in an appeal filed by the CEB. Another Secretary approved it in 1998 due to political pressure without any public hearing. EFL filed a case against this decision and the secretary agreed to hear the case and it was settled. But that was not a public hearing. After the hearing the project was again approved. The approval stated that a hydrological study should be done and that a monitoring committee be appointed. Now the monitoring committee is functioning and soon you will see a reduction in the seven waterfalls, including St. Clair and Devon.
We are a public interest organisation and we fought for the rights of the present and future generations. The present generation in the name of development does not have the right to destroy the natural heritage.
Although Dr. Siyamabalapitiya cannot understand the present electricity crisis he does not admit it.
If there is no governance issue, there will be no corruption in the CEB and an electricty crisis will not occur.
Unfortunately, bad tender procedure, purchasing of power at a higher rate and mass scale corruption destroyed the savings of the CEB and all these were done to pave the way of privatisation. The present electricity crisis is a creation of the CEB’s decision makers and neither the public nor the NGOs can be blamed for such actions.
The environmental impacts due to Norochcholai and Upper Kotmale were not considered at the planning stage. When Upper Kotmale project is implemented, the negative environmental impacts about which we protested will be seen.
However, if Dr. Siyamabalapitiya is successful in convincing the decision makers, people can experience the impacts of a coal plant.
However, we still have to consider whether we need a natural gas power plant, which is more environmentally and economically sound. We also have potential for renewable sources such as a small hydro of 180 MW. These schemes can supply the electricity need of 53 per cent of the population who are not connected to the national grid and who have no power cuts at present. The discrimination today is not the power cut of 2 1/2 hours but the power cut forever. Can Dr. Siyamabalapitiya provide electricity to those people even if Norochocholai and Upper Kotmale are implemented?
The implementation of present proposals will only increase the consumption of the existing users and do no justice to the majority which has to sacrifice its natural heritage and face environmental pollution. Can Dr. Siyamabalapitiya and CEB do justice to them?