Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Electricity failure or power cut?

OPINION
G.A.D.Sirimal [SLAS] - Rtd. Asst. Secretary, Ministry for Power and Energy
Recently there had been frequent power failures and the Ministry for Power and Energy had appointed two committees when such failures occurred, and this time the government, as directed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has appointed a committee comprising high academics to go into the latest power failure. With due respect and no malice to members of this committee, it would have been more useful if retired senior Electrical Enginers were given this task, as all of them, during their long service had gained practical experience by working in all divisions of the CEB, coupled with theory - Generation, Transmission etc., could come up with a comprehensive report and recommendations. If I may mention some names of Electrical Engineers – Prof. K.K.Y.W.Perera, Dr. P.N.Fernando. Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya, B.R.O.Fernando, D.C.Wijeratne, Shavi Fernando.

Whatever it be, or whoever probes into this national disaster, should also find out what action the CEB had taken on earlier committee findings, and whether non-compliance with the recommendations had resulted in the present situation, which I hope is not so. If I may trespass into the electrical engineering area, which is not my speciality, my view, subject to correction and criticism, is that when a power plant reduces the electricity output from it, because of a fault in the power system, it should trip the electrical input but continue spinning. Then, when the problem of the transmission system eases, it is possible to reconnect and start supplying. In short, it is a power system fault which has to be remedied.

When a similar situation arose in the 1980s, the Ministry for Power and Energy, along with the CEB, informed the public of the scheduled power cuts, giving the time, duration and the area, which enabled all sectors of consumers of electricity to plan out their activities. Unfortunately and regrettably, the authorities have this time failed to keep the consumers so informed, resulting in utter confusion, coupled with the existing high temperature.

Having said that, the readers, especially the Minister for Power and Energy, the Secretary to the Ministry and CEB officials are reminded of my letter captioned "Looming Power Crisis "of 17TH Sept.2015, wherein I stated, if the Sampur Coal Plant is not commissioned by around 2017, we would face a severe power cut, if the hydro reservoirs run dry and one 300 MW Coal plant in Norochcholaii goes out of commission. I believe this is the situation we face now. As we see over TV and read in newspapers, the hydro reservoirs have almost reached the lowest level and one unit of the 900 MW Coal Power Plant at Norochcholai is undergoing major repairs. I need not repeat the circumstances under which we were forced to accept the Chinese offer of the Norochcholai Coal Plant. Had the governments in power then, taken the advise of experts, both local and foreign, we could have called for world-wide tenders in time and selected the best and also at much better financial terms.

The present energy situation seems not too rosy, as the Sampur Coal Plant is far behind schedule, and Wind energy projects are yet under dispute. To settle disputes, what is needed is political will. If the Indian Company is not prepared to agree to our terms, then the government should seriously turn to Japan, which promised to set up a Coal Plant in Sri Lanka. It may be sited either at Trinco or Hambantota.

Electricity is a good servant but a bad master, so please do not play with this vital utility on which lies the socio-economic development of this country. Further, foreign investors, who the government proposes to lure to set up business ventures and provide employment, will have second thoughts before they invest.

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