By a special correspondent
The power crisis in Sri Lanka had been looming for a considerable period by the end of 2005, with frequent power cuts and considerable consumer anxiety. This was mainly due to the non-implementation of several critical power projects: Norochcholai Coal Power Plant (since 1990), Kerawalapitiya Combined Cycle Power Plant (since 1990), Trincomalee Coal Power Plant (since 1985), and Upper Kotmale Hydro Power Plant (since 1990).
However, immediately after President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office in November 2005, he commenced the implementation of the 300 MW Kerawalapitiya Combined Cycle Power Plant in early January 2006 which added 200 MW to the system by 2008. That initiative served to avoid the massive power shortage and resulting power cuts envisaged in 2008. A further 100 MW from the same plant was added to the system in 2009, which enabled the Government to confidently go ahead with electrifying the entire country from the then existing electrification level of about 60% only.
The 900 MW Norochcholai Coal Power Plant too was cleared for implementation in three stages in early January 2006, and its Phase 1 added 300 MW to the system in July 2011, resulting in the electricity shortage expected in 2011 being avoided. Even so, further electricity shortages were expected to occur in 2014 due to the rapid electrification program of the entire country as a result of the massive economic development and the Government’s aim to provide electricity to all on a 24x7 basis. Therefore, Phases 2 and 3 of the Norochcholai Coal Power Project were accelerated, adding 300 MW in May 2014 and another 300 MW in October 2014.
In addition, during the period up to 2014, 150 MW through the Upper Kotmale Hydro Power Project, 375 MW through several mini-hydro projects, 100 MW through two solar power energy parks in Hambantota, 98 MW through wind-driven power plants in Puttalam, and 23 MW through biomass projects, were added to the national grid. A further 30 MW was added as a result of consumers generating their own electricity through roof-top solar panels installed at their residences, factories, hotels, etc., which was encouraged through a ‘net metering facility’ that was introduced in September 2008. Through these measures, the Government was able to honour its solemn promise to local and foreign investors that Sri Lanka will never experience power shortages again.
By the end of 2014, there were also several major power generating projects in progress: 120 MW from the Uma-Oya Hydro Power Project – commenced 2011, and completed 80%, 40 MW from the Broadland Hydro Power Project – commenced 2013, and completed 40%, and 25 MW from the Moragahakanda Hydro Project – commenced in 2013 and completed 70%. In addition, 35 MW from the Moragolla Hydro Power Project, 25 MW from the Seethawaka Hydro Power Project, and 375 MW from the massive Wind Energy Park Project in Mannar were finalised and ready for tendering with ADB loans. At the same time, the Government was planning to implement ‘Pump-storage’ Hydro generation projects in due course in order to increase the peak generation capacity of several hydro generation power plants. Towards that end, a detailed feasibility study was also carried out in 2013 with Japanese Government’s support.
It must also be stated that, since 1996, two privately owned very high cost ‘emergency power’ plants, Aggreko (25 MW) and Coolair (15 MW) had been in operation in Jaffna with annual generation agreements being renewed each year to provide electricity to Jaffna, due to the break-down of the main transmission network from Vavuniya. However, immediately after the conflict, the Government re-connected Jaffna to the National Grid and the two ‘emergency power’ plants were terminated. Whilst doing so, the Government augmented the power needs in the North by commissioning CEB’s own 25 MW Thermal Power Plant in Jaffna in December 2012.
In the meantime, four thermal power purchase agreements out of eight such agreements where the contractual periods came to an end between November 2005 and December 2014, were not renewed as it was the Government’s intention not to purchase costly thermal power from private power producers. Accordingly, not a single unit of thermal ‘emergency power’ was procured during the period November 2005 to December 2014.
By implementing the above strategies and projects in a timely and scientific manner, the Rajapaksa Government was able to prevent power cuts and ensure continuous power in the country. It was also able to reduce the consumer electricity tariff by a significant 25% with effect from the time of the addition of Norochcholai Phase 3, namely October 2014.
In the meantime, the electricity requirements in keeping with the power demand trends from 2018 to 2025 were also anticipated well in time. Therefore, the Sampur Coal Power Plant was systematically implemented for construction to commence by the second quarter of 2015, as indicated by the following timeline:
1. Memorandum of Agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and Government of India entered into on 29.12.2006
2. Northern and Eastern Provinces cleared from LTTE domination to enable the Government to allocate 500 acres of land from Trincomalee for the Project by 18.05.2009
3. Sampur site selected for the Project by NTPC of India in 2010
4. Joint Venture Agreement between the CEB and NTPC signed on 6.9.2011
5.Trincomalee Coal Power Company incorporated on 26.9.2011
6. Project Feasibility Study Report completed on 15.2.2012
7.Power Purchase Agreement cleared by Attorney General on 11.2.2011
8. Power Purchase Agreement signed on 7.1.2013
9. Parliament Approval for the Tax Exemption and Duty Waivers for 25 years, under the Strategic Development Project Act granted to the project in 2012
10. Environmental Assessment finalised in 2012 and CEA’s environmental clearance awaited from end of 2013. (However, the final clearance for the project was received in March 2015, after President Rajapaksa’s Government was voted out of office).
11. Implementation Agreement between the Treasury and Coal Power Company signed on 7.1.2013
12. Lease Agreement for the Land executed on 7.1.2013
13. BOI Agreement signed by Trincomalee Coal Power Company on 7.1.2013
14. Competitive bidding documents to invite competitive bidding for the power plant finalised in December 2014
15. Competitive bidding documents for a transmission line to transmit 1,100 MW from the two Coal Power Plants (500 MW from CEB/NTPC Project+ 600 MW from the Japan funded Super Coal Plant Project) from Sampur to Habarana and the augmentation of the Grid facility from Habarana to Veyangoda, finalised in December 2014.
As could be seen from the above, the new Government could have easily commenced physical construction work on the 500 MW Sampur CEB/NTPC Coal Power Plant by mid-2015 if it had diligently followed the on-going process. If it had done so, the new coal power plant would have been ready to commence generation by end 2018. However, most unfortunately, the new Government summarily cancelled the project in early 2015.
As a further strategy to ensure continuous power beyond 2025, another 600 MW Super Coal Power Plant was also planned from 2013 onwards, with construction to commence around 2016. That project was to be carried out with a Japan Government loan. Towards that end, JICA had already commenced a feasibility study to establish such a Coal Power Plant in Sampur, in close proximity to the CEB/NTPC Plant location, in order to rationalise the transmission of power from both plants. However, that project too had been cancelled by the present Government in August 2015, in order to allocate the 818 acres of ear marked land for a ‘Heavy Industry Zone’, as well as to settle ‘displaced’ families in accordance with a ‘political promise’ given by the current political leadership to certain Northern and Eastern political leaders.