Denying widespread speculation that the administration of the Norochcholai Power Plant will be handed over to China, Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy Ajith Perera said the Government was only proposing a ‘separate management unit’ but ownership and management would be handled by Sri Lanka. “We are not going to privatise Norochcholai; we are not going to hand over it to China. Those are mere rumours. We have more than enough experts within CEB and Sri Lanka,” he asserted.
In an interview with the Daily FT, Perera also revealed the Government’s plan to buy emergency power as a temporary measure to ease the prevailing condition and spoke on the importance of formulating a permanent solution to avoid similar situations in future.
“Pointing fingers at others and blaming previous governments will not bring any solution to the prevailing electricity crisis. Lack of maintenance, lack of proper planning in transmission and bad choices in power generation are identified as the main areas that led to this situation. Now that we have identified those areas, it is time for us to rectify them and act fast,” noted the Deputy Minister.
Following are excerpts from the interview.
Q: What is the latest with regard to the electricity crisis?
A: I wouldn’t say things have improved 100%; we are still in a critical condition. However, we are little hopeful since there was rain during the last few days. Early this week we received a fair amount of rain. I feel we will be able to deliver 24 hour power especially after buying emergency power.
We are considering emergency power purchasing. Until the prevailing dry season ends we need to purchase several new power generators from overseas for at least three months. We will go for an international competitive bidding process to rent the power generators. This is only a temporary measure to confront the hydro power crisis. However, we expect more rain in June which will improve the situation. Until then we have to reduce the power consumption through effective power management.
Q: Amidst assurance of uninterrupted power supply, CEB early this week announced a power cut schedule. How did this happen?
A: That was a mistake made by the CEB. It was corrected within a few minutes. I hope such mistakes will not be repeated in future.
Q: Is Norochcholai running at its full capacity?
A: Yes, the Norochcholai Plant is functioning at full capacity. I don’t think there will be any more technical issues there. We expect the plant to run smoothly and function at its full potential; at least during the coming three months.
Q: What do you have to say about hydropower capacity?
A: Honestly, we have hydropower capacity, but we cannot release water before 15 April. We have to release water for the Yala season on 15 April. That is the scheduled date and until then we have to tolerate this severe crisis. After 15 April we will receive 300 MW from Mahaweli reservoir and the situation is expected to improve. We are hopeful the ongoing crisis will ease after that.
Q: How long do you expect the rain to continue to improve the prevailing condition?
A: We are expecting more and more rain. Actually we want a few more days of rain.
Q: You cannot solely rely on the rain. Don’t you have any other plan to overcome this situation?
A: We are considering all possible ways to supply uninterrupted electricity to every part of the country. The ministerial sub committee recommended some permanent solutions to this issue. There will be an LNG power plant in Kerawalapitiya with a capacity of 300 MW. There will be a solar power addition from southern area for 100 MW. These additions will definitely ease the situation. We need to amend our long-term generation plan according to the situation.
Q: What is total cost? Who will finance these projects?
A: I am not in a position to give you an exact figure at this moment, but we are looking at private investors both local and foreign. I know there is lot of interest among the private sector because investing in the power sector is always considered a good business. The selection will be through a competitive tender process. We expect high competition for these kinds of projects so we need not worry about the finances or investors.
Q: Do you have a timeframe to complete these projects?
A: Definitely we need to kick off these projects immediately. In fact these projects should have commenced many years ago. Had we done that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have faced this crisis today. However, even if we commence now, it will take at least two years to build an LNG power plant. It will take a minimum of one year to build the solar plant.
The recommendations of the ministerial subcommittee were finalised on Tuesday. We will act on those recommendations. Like I mentioned before, we need to amend our long-term power generation plan.
Q: Is it true that the management of the Norochcholai Power Plant will be handed over to China?
A: No, we have not taken a decision on that. Handing over the management to China is not a possibility. Actually we are proposing to have a separate management unit for the Norochcholai Power Plant with adequate experts.
Q: Can you elaborate more on this ‘separate management unit’?
A: Actually we have enough experts within the CEB and within Sri Lanka. They will be able to handle the Norochcholai Power Plant, but for that we need a separate management unit under CEB. We are not going to privatise Norochcholai, nor are we not going to hand over it to China. Those are mere rumours. Ownership of Norochcholai will be with us and the management will be handled by Sri Lankans. We are only proposing to have a separate management unit for Norochcholai.
Q: Who will control this ‘separate management unit’?
A: If you are asking me whether the unit will be controlled by Chinese people, my answer is no. At the moment we are not thinking about Chinese people. Let me reiterate that we have more than enough experts in CEB and Sri Lanka. However we shouldn’t forget that we have Chinese experts and engineers already working at these plants. As we speak, a few hundred are already working at the Norochcholai Power Plant. I don’t think anybody should try to make a big deal out of this.
Q: Is it true the Ministry of Power and Energy conducted a special pooja at the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi expecting rain?
A: Yes we did. In fact this is an important event in our calendar. Every year the Ministry of Power conducts this special pooja expecting timely rain. This year’s pooja was very successful. After two days it started to rain. I personally think it is a good ritual to follow.
Q: Are you aware there are frequent power cuts in some parts of the country without prior notice?
A: Yes. I am aware of this situation. There are technical difficulties. There may be ongoing repairs. Those are unavoidable. People should also be little tolerant during such situations. However, I assure you that there are no intentional power cuts. The Government will make an extra effort to make sure there are no power cuts, intentional or unintentional, during the upcoming festive season.
Q: Who is to be blamed for this situation?
A: I don’t want to blame anyone. Pointing fingers at others and blaming previous governments will not bring any solution to the prevailing electricity crisis. Lack of maintenance, lack of proper planning in transmission and bad choices in power generation are identified as the main areas that led to this situation. Now that we have identified those areas, it is time for us to rectify them and act fast.
We need to restore the power sector. Power is an important factor in day-to-day life and a vital aspect where the country’s development process is concerned. As the ruling party it is our duty to look into these matters and provide a sound and long-term solution. We need to act fast.
Q: Do you still feel the recent explosions at the CEB substation was an act of sabotage?
A: We are now receiving reports from committees appointed by various authorities. Those reports have revealed that explosions in key sub stations were due to lack of maintenance. Bad planning and mismanagement were the other reasons. I don’t think we have any reason to believe it was an act of sabotage. I personally don’t believe in that. There is no evidence to prove it was an act of sabotage.