Power paralysis

Saturday, 4 December 2021 01:40 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 Vehicles on the road sans traffic signals as a six-hour power breakdown severely impacted normal life in the country – Pic by Pradeep Pathirana


  • 6-hour countrywide blackout deals big blow to economy and households already reeling from pandemic and soaring costs
  • Officials allege sabotage; order probe
  • Trade unions deny Govt. allegation
  • Power failure was ahead of Supreme Court taking up FR cases against Govt.-US firm deal on Yugadanavi
  • Norochcholai restoration pending; further temporary interruptions not ruled out

A countrywide six-hour power blackout during the daytime yesterday dealt a big blow to economic and household activities as the Government faced severe public and private sector outcry over the failure to prevent it as well as restore electricity in quick time.

The Government initially attributed the blackout to a failure in the transmission line but later Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) General Manager M.R. Manatunga said he suspected it was sabotage and a proper investigation would be carried out. Trade unions denied the Government allegation whilst the Police was also instructed to probe the power failure.

The blackout also came amidst a work-to-rule campaign by trade unions though they called it off later in the day.

Countrywide power was only restored by 4:30 p.m. as officials alleged that workers deliberately delayed reinstating electricity.

At the time this edition went to print, all power plants except for Norochcholai had been restored. The coal power plant is expected to take two days to be activated.

CEB said there could be short-term power disruptions islandwide during next few days until three plants at Norochcholai power plant become fully functional.

The blackout seriously inconvenienced households already reeling from the soaring cost of living, shortage of essential items as well as concerns over the safety of the usage of LPG. Work at Government offices, business enterprises and private sector establishments that lacked generators was severely impacted as well.

Public opinion was divided over whom to blame. Some castigated the Government for yet another failure whilst others scorned trade union irresponsibility even though their demands may be legitimate.

However, yesterday’s blackout by accident or design was looming as the CEB officials and trade unions have been at loggerheads over multiple issues including the Government’s move to partially privatise and expand the Yugadanavi plant in agreement with US-based New Fortress Energy.

In late September, the US-based company announced it had struck a deal with the CEB to supply 1.2 million gallons of liquefied natural gas a day through a 310 MW combined cycle power plant and another 700 MW plant to be built in Kerawalapitiya.

As per the agreement, the US firm will initially provide the equivalent of an estimated 1.2 million gallons of LNG per day to the Government which has insisted the deal is a win-win, though trade unions both in the electricity and petroleum sectors and the Opposition think otherwise.

The Government’s deal with the US firm is now under litigation following multiple Fundamental Rights petitions filed. Hearing of some of the cases by the Supreme Court is slated for 16 December. The Court also ordered the Attorney General to present any objections before Monday (6 December) while the petitioners were given until 13 December to file counter objections.