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Mandate of Ministry of Power –

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Some ambiguities, conflicts and barriers

By Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri

Continued from Yesterday

OPTIONS FOR MEETING THE
PRESIDENT’S TARGET

The obvious choice for meeting the President’s target is to shift from coal power to solar and wind power. In an article written by the author appearing in the Island of July 31st and August 1st, 2020, he showed that by shifting from coal power to solar and wind power, CEB can save over 100 billion rupees annually. This is based on the price of LKR/kWh 10 offered in an on-going wind power project and bids received for solar power projects as divulged by CEB Chairman (Island of 24.07.2020). This is much less than the average cost of generation incurred by CEB which is LKR/kWh 23. In addition to the expenditure saved, adopting solar and wind power gives a bonus of providing pollution free generation.

Several proposals for building large scale solar power plants and wind power plants have been granted Cabinet approval in 2016 and 2017, but there have been no follow up measures taken to pursue them by the CEB. This is despite their economic and environmental advantages. With the announcement of President’s policy on promoting renewable energy, it is hoped that the officials in the Power Ministry and CEB will change their mindset and implement the proposed RE projects without delay. In order to get the private sector involved in this exercise, the present limitation of 10 MW for the development of RE projects by the private sector has to be removed.

The officials of the Power Ministry as well as of the CEB need to be reminded of the statement “We will remove all impediments and incentivize the private sector and entrepreneurs interested in setting up renewable energy projects i.e. solar and wind, and to this end, the government will provide assistance” appearing in the VPS policy document under Renewable Energy section. It is essential that they change their lackadaisical attitude towards renewable energy, if the President’s targets are to be achieved.

The mandate of the State Ministry of Renewable Energy includes building of large scale solar and wind power plants as priority areas. However, their implementation will be possible only with the concurrence of CEB, which was lacking in the past RE projects. There were also media reports of India offering a large solar park under the International Solar Alliance initiated by the Indian Prime Minister together with the French President at the Climate Change Summit Conference held in 2015. Sri Lanka should accept this offer and accelerate building up its solar power capacity.

Another option available is to increase the large hydropower capacity. The general thinking on this is that there are no more suitable sites available to build large hydropower plants in Sri Lanka. However, it is possible to build a large hydro power plant by building a new reservoir on Kotmale Oya below St. Clair’s waterfall and linking it to the existing shaft of the Upper Kotmale Power Plant. This will enable it to operate during the day increasing its plant factor rather than operate only as a peaking plant as done now. Water spilling over the Upper Kotmale Reservoir as well as water flowing down Devon’s water fall can be collected in this new reservoir.

This proposal was made by the Central Engineering Consulting Bureau (CECB) during the planning stage of Upper Kotmale project but not accepted by the Japanese Contractors. It has the potential to add about 160 MW of capacity, generating additional 520 GWh of RE annually. This is a better option than diverting water from Pundalu Oya to the shaft of the Upper Kotmale Project as proposed by CEB in its 2020-39 Plan.

The CEB’s LTGE Plan has given low priority for biomass power plants, adding only 5 MW capacity annually. This can be easily enhanced by setting up dedicated energy plantations and mixed plantations which will generate more renewable energy. It will also provide more opportunities for income generation to rural people and providing fodder to maintain a livestock industry. The colossal sum of money spent annually on importing fuel for thermal power plants presently could be retained in the country by developing biomass power plants.

It has been estimated that 1 ha of dedicated plantation of a crop such as gliricidia will yield 10 t of biomass annually. Assuming combustion of 1 t of biomass with 33% efficiency will generate 1.5 MWh of electricity, 1 ha of plantations has the capacity to generate energy equivalent to 15 MWh. Hence, to replace 1 MW of thermal power plant, about 500 ha energy plantations are required. This could be on new land or on home gardens and abandoned cropland including fallowed paddy land.

In 2019, the Cabinet declared 2022 as the year of Biomass Energy with the objective of promoting energy generation from biomass. Already, SLSEA is pursuing a project funded partly by UNDP and FAO for “Promoting Sustainable Biomass Energy Production and Modern Bio-Energy Technologies” with the specific objective of removing obstacles to the realization of sustainable biomass plantation, increase of market share of biomass energy generation and adoption of biomass- based energy technologies in Sri Lanka. Currently, a survey is planned to identify land available and suitable for energy plantations. Findings of this study will help developing more biomass power capacity at commercial scale by 2030.

CONFLICT BETWEEN THE POWER MINISTRY MANDATE AND VPS

POLICY DOCUMENT

The Power Ministry mandate has the following provisions pertaining to the LTGE Plan and Puttalam Coal power plant.

Meeting the electricity needs of all urban and rural communities based on the long-term generation expansion (LTGE) plan prepared by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

Expand the capacity of the Puttalam coal power plant with additional investment.

Implement the long-term generation expansion plan.

As mentioned previously, CEB’s current plan envisages building 1,200 MW of coal power plants by 2030. Though it is consistent with the above mandate of the Power Ministry, its implementation will result in achieving only 35% share for RE plants out of total generation by 2030. This is in violation of the VPS targets. Hence, either the State Ministry should pursue more RE projects disregarding what was specified in the CEB’s LTGE Plan or the CEB revise its Plan to align with the President’s VPS document.

The VPS document has the following statement:

As part of the environmental-friendly policy, we will convert the fuel-powered plants located around the Colombo area to natural gas turbine plants within the next year.

It is gratifying to note that the new Government has decided to adopt an environment-friendly policy. However, it should apply not only to Kelanitissa Complex, but also to Puttalam Power Plant as well where the pollution is much severe than at Kelanitissa, particularly arising out of million tonnes of ash accumulated over the years containing many toxic heavy metals including mercury and arsenic.

Hence, in keeping with this policy, the proposal to add another 300 MW coal power plant to Puttalam Complex should be scrapped and instead the government should build a NG operated power plant of similar capacity which will be cheaper and easier to operate and maintain. Further, it will not emit any polluting gases such as Sulphur Dioxide or any particulates or any ash at all. Even the emission of other gases such as Carbon Dioxide contributing to global warming and Oxides of Nitrogen will be very much less.

Also, the LTGE Plan is highly flawed. It is supposed to determine which power technology will be the cheapest in 20 years hence based on current prices. With the cost of generation depending on plant capital cost and fuel prices both of which could vary widely within a span of 20 years, it is futile to make forecasts now as to which technology is the cheapest in 20 years hence and to adopt it. The technology should be selected after calling for bids for different technologies and selecting the most economic plant that meets detailed performance specifications as well as specifications on emission limits. This should be done at the time of building the plant and not based on flawed forecasts. Hence, stipulating a mandate to follow a flawed plan does not make sense.

 

BARRIERS AGAINST THE STATE MINISTRY AND VPS MANDATE

The State Ministry mandate has the following requirement:

Convert the Kelanitissa power plant to a natural gas turbine plant, and expand the Kerawalapitiya power plant.

The VPS document has the following requirements:

Immediate actions will be taken to convert the Kelanitissa plant to a natural gas turbine plant, where similar two plants will be implemented in Kerawalapitiya and Hambantota before 2023.

As part of the environmental-friendly policy, we will convert the fuel-powered plants located around the Colombo area to natural gas turbine plants within the next year.

Conversion to natural gas operation is possible with gas turbine power plants, both open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) and combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT). The latter comprises of two generating units, a gas turbine and a steam turbine which operates with hot exhaust gas released by the gas turbine without consuming additional fuel. Hence, a CCGT plant has a high efficiency exceeding 50%.

At Kelanitissa Complex, there are two OCGT plants with capacities 80 MW and 115 MW commissioned in 1981/82 and 1997, respectively, and two CCGT plants with capacities 165 MW and 163 MW commissioned in 2001/03 and 2003, respectively. All these power plants currently operate with auto diesel, except that the CEB owned 165 MW plant operates partly with diesel and partly with naphtha produced as a surplus in the refinery. All these plants can be converted to operate with NG after modifying their fuel injection systems, if it is found economical to do so considering their age. However, the non-availability of NG is a barrier to convert them within the specified time targets given in the mandates.

In order to convert these gas turbine plants to operate on NG, first NG will have to be imported in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for which special unloading jetties on land or floating units need to be built which takes several years. Though negotiations were held with India and Japan for several years after signing memoranda of understanding with them for building a terminal and importing LNG, no progress has been made public on this project. It was also reported in the media that CEB is seeking assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to establish a terminal for importing LNG.

Originally, the Ministry of Petroleum had the mandate for importing LNG, but because of the ministry’s inaction, the CEB obtained Cabinet approval for them to import LNG directly. However, under the new government, all matters relating to petroleum including NG comes under the purview of the Ministry of Energy. It is to be seen how the two ministries will coordinate to supply NG for operating not only these existing gas turbine power plants but also the proposed new gas turbine power plants. Importing of LNG needs to follow international protocols and has to be handled by competent operators after having in place the necessary regulatory framework on safety aspects and issuing licenses for operators.

 

CONCLUSION

The mandate given to the Ministry of Power recommends the establishment of coal power plants in keeping with the long-term generation expansion plan of CEB. On the other hand, the mandates given to the State Ministry for Renewable Energy recommends conversion of existing thermal power plants to operate on natural gas in keeping with the environment-friendly policy of the government. Therefore, to be consistent in applying this policy, the proposed 300 MW coal power plant to be built at Puttalam should also be converted into a gas power plant.

This could be best done by expediting the building of the 300 MW gas power plant at Kerawalapitiya for which the Cabinet approval has already been granted after a procurement process which got dragged for nearly 4 years. This plant, which could be built much faster than the coal power plant, will be able to meet any power deficit anticipated in a few years’ time. It appears that the Ministry is holding back this project for reasons best known to them and the new Minister should use his good office to expedite the project without listening to officials who were responsible for delaying it. The most practicable way of achieving these targets is to appoint a new set of young honest officers not allergic to renewable energy and gas power to take decisions on these matters.


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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