A crime against Sri Lanka

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How prudent is it to let a power station in mint condition be sold for scrap while Sri Lanka is in the middle of a power crisis? I am referring to a power plant at Sapugaskanda; it has currently been de-commissioned waiting either to be commissioned again or to be dismantled and sold.

Scrapping seems to be its fate going by the reluctance of the government to get it online again. This power station let go of 50 engineers and personnel last October. Only the power station awaits its fate, gleaming and maintained in impeccable spruce condition. How prudent is it to let go of such a 50 MW power station and scrap it while the people have been left with electricity?

An oft-heard lament is that no power stations have been added to the grid during the last five years! We’re suffering the repercussions of it right now—power cuts lasting more than 13 hours. But the Power Ministry seems to have the luxury of scrapping an existing 50 MW! What sense does it make to scrap an existing operational power plant maintained in prime condition? This is NOT an emergency power genset. I think the government is smudging the line between ‘emergency power’ and standard regular power suppliers. The PUCSL (Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka) has even started to call the three IPPs currently standing decommissioned as ‘emergency power’. They are not emergency power suppliers. They have been a part and parcel of power generation plan of Sri Lanka for the past 22 years. The One at Sapugaskanda is a power station built in 1998 at an exorbitant cost. The people of Sri Lanka has borne the cost of installation and maintenance for 22 years. They should be the rightful owners of this fully paid up power station by now. It is fully capable of generating for another few good years to come. Having recovered the investment and costs, the company is able to offer the CEB unparalleled thermal electricity unit rates of Rs. 20. It also is an IPP operating on cheap heavy fuel oil, which is only a byproduct from the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) refinery. Even if it was to be imported, unlike diesel, it is the cheap ‘leftover stuff’ in the petroleum industry. Yet, this power station is equipped to reduce air pollution to a bare minimum, as emission test results indicate.

In fact, all the three IPPs have been idling for nearly one year. The grid has been deprived of a nearly 200MW power supply and the country has been dependent on hydropower generation at a time when the water levels in reservoirs are extremely low.

There have been three ministers for power in two years. Dallas Alahapperuma saw the long-term generation plan clearly, alongside president’s renewable energy proposals. He proposed viable plans, even against the backdrop of the looming power crisis with screaming consumer demand no match for the frugal supply available with the CEB, for not just for now, but for a few more years to come. He fore saw the current power crisis then, and made plans accordingly. His plans were scuttled by his successors.

In the middle of this chaos somehow the Cabinet approved the commissioning of the three IPPs which have been idling last year. This happened only two weeks ago. The CEB welcomed this decision with a huge sigh of relief as a short-term measure to handle the power crisis in full swing by now. The directors of the company too heeded the appeal of the government/ministry to help the country in its hour of need. They complied. It conceded a one-year contract, to a six-months contract. It further reduced the rates. Everything was ready to get started to supply electricity to a country starved of power, 180 MW altogether in a few days, it seemed. We, the public of Sri Lanka, could have finally breathed a sigh of relief when five-hour power cuts were over. But, alas, the PUCSL intervened and threw a spanner in the works by demanding to cut down of prices further. It seems to think that power could be bought like peanuts. The PUCSL head even wants this particular power station to come online for a few weeks only. The reason? To use up some CPC fuel stocks amounting to about 2800 MT!

Now, the PUCSL head wants a power station commissioned, meaning recruiting a whole team of operational people, priming machinery, etc. for just three weeks! Where does Sri Lanka go after three weeks? Its clear PUCSL head is incapable of understanding the situation.

So unfortunately, at this juncture, this particular IPP Company is saying enough is enough. It has recovered the cost of plant, and is going to dismantle it and dispose of it to make some more money. Who is the loser? The people of Sri Lanka! The company has offered the whole plant for free/one dollar to the CEB at the end of a one year’s contract. Alternatively, it has offered to operate it too, even for three more years and supply power at an unmatched price of Rs. 20 per unit during that period. But the government does not seem to be interested in either of these proposals. Its priorities are different. It is purchasing power from emergency power suppliers at double the price—as much as Rs.45 per unit! That was the price quoted before the recent fuel price hike. Since these emergency power sets are diesel operated, the price of a unit of electricity may have gone up to Rs. 60.

It is high time President Gotabaya Rajapaksa intervened to ensure that the country gains from this power station to be dismantled and sold.

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