By Camelia Nathaniel
The frequent breakdowns at the Norochcholai Power Plant and the ongoing power cuts has seen Minister of Power and Energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka receiving plenty of flack from the public as well as the media, the past few weeks.
What does the minister, who once promised never to impose power cuts, have to say about these and other issues plaguing the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB)? Ceylon Today interviewed the minister on these and other pertinent issues.
Q: The CEB Chairman promised the power cuts would be discontinued by 27 August, after the repairs to Norochcholai are completed. Do you think it is possible?
A: No, that is not true as the power cuts were imposed due to the low hydro power capacity. If we had adequate water in the reservoir to produce hydropower we could meet the demand without Norochcholai. As the hydropower potential has drastically reduced to 15%, we cannot use the two largest hydropower plants.
If we do not receive rains by mid-September we will be faced with a huge problem as we will not be able to operate the system and meet the demand. Hence, saving power is vital at this point as we cannot depend on receiving timely rainfall due to various environmental changes.
Although the CEB had predicted that the power cuts would be ended by 27August, taking into consideration past experiences, I have my doubts if the repairs could be completed and the power supply restored by then.
Q: If we do not receive rainfall by September, what is the situation?
A: We will be faced with a very serious problem as we will not be able to control the power system. Therefore, we will have to introduce stringent measures from September in order to prevent a catastrophe. State institutions that have the capacity to produce their own power through generators will be asked to look after their own power requirements.
Q: Could you explain why the system cannot run without sufficient hydropower?
A: Since the demands vary at various times of the day, there are fluctuations in demand. In order to absorb this fluctuation, there must be an instant form of power generation as during the peak period. This can only be done through hydropower as the thermal power plants cannot cater to these impulsive loads as it takes time to pickup. The thermal power plant can somewhat meet the demand, but cannot withstand the demand.
The power system in this country was based solely on hydropower and we did not anticipate such drastic changes in weather patterns.
Q: With the breakdown of Norochcholai, a committee has been appointed to ascertain the causes and issue a report. What is the outcome of this investigation?
A: I’m the one who appointed the committee to look in to the technical matters that led to the breakdown. I have written several letters to the CEB project team, seeking an explanation for the situation at Norochcholai, with regard to the technical problems they are facing. The interim report was thereafter handed over to me and we are currently studying the recommendations and we have asked the CEB to implement these recommendations. In the mean time, the CEB Deputy General Manager is responsible for the operations at the Norochcholai Power Plant.
Q: There are accusations that the cause of the Norochcholai breakdowns was the low quality of equipment used by the Chinese?
A: This plant was approved by the CEB project team. Therefore, the CEB cannot blame the Chinese. It was the responsibility of the CEB team to look in to all these aspects and they cannot now palm the blame on the Chinese alone as they approved the project. The CEB, CIMEC and PYORI should all take responsibility and not blame only CIMEC.
Q: How important is the Norochcholai power plant?
A: This plant is providing us 20 % of the power requirement. It was expected that this plant would give us 1,500 units, but it was only able to produce 1,000 units whereas, we had to obtain the balance using heavy fuel, which cost us about Rs 14 billion. This year the plant is expected to give us 1,800 GW hours.
If not for the Norochcholai plant, considering the current situation we would have to impose 7-hour power cuts.
Q: When do you think the power cuts could be stopped?
A: In my opinion, we have to make some technical changes at the Norochcholai power plant which could take time. We hope that by the end of 2013 once the second stage of the project is completed, most of the problems will be solved. We are strictly monitoring the second phase and expect it to be completed by October 2013. Once the second stage is completed and commissioned, then SL will not have to face the power crisis.
However, the issue is how can it be successfully completed and commissioned. Since public funds have been utilized, it is the joint responsibility of CEB, CIMEC and PYORI to make sure that the project is completed on time and commissioned on scheduled.
Q: Have you any doubts with regard to the completion of the second stage on time?
A: There should be four transmission lines connected to the system where if one transmission line tripped, the other three lines could still operate in supplying power from Norochcholai. Unfortunately the current system only has one transmission line and if this line tripped then the power supply comes to a complete standstill. This is the main technical problem that I see at this plant. Therefore, I think it is important that we construct the four transmission lines and for this we need to inspect the technical viability. I see this as a design problem.
Q: With regard to the union issues, last week did you come to a settlement with them regarding their demands, and did you agree to grant them salary increments?
A : Well, their demands are very unreasonable because we have given them a 25% salary increment and we have given them one month salary as bonus, and one month salary as medical allowance adding up to a total of 14 monthly salaries per annum. On average a CEB worker earns around Rs 66,000 per month whereas even my salary is only Rs 54,000 as a minister. Even the labourers and drivers, the lowest categories of workers with minimum qualifications, earns around Rs 24,000 as basic salary and with overtime, and so forth, it works out to around Rs 30,000 per month. Even a first class assistant lecturer at the university and even some doctors only earn around Rs 29,000 on average. So therefore, what are they grumbling about? What are the special duties done by the CEB labourers, drivers, and others? It is in fact the engineers who are carrying out the special duties. Therefore, we have given them additional allowances to compensate for the additional duties done by the engineers. Therefore, it is very unfair for the unions to be talking about salary issues.
Q: How did the strike by certain CEB unions impact on the functions of the CEB?
A: Even though around 12,000 employees took part in the strike and did not report to work, there was no interruption in the power supply. This proves that the entire 12,000 is not essential for the operations of the CEB. Therefore, through this strike what they have managed to show the world is that the services of this entire 12,000 are nonessential and the CEB can function without them. This was proved beyond any doubts.
Q: A special Chinese team was brought in recently after the breakdown at Norochcholai. What is their role?
A: The Chinese team had been brought here to attend to the technical problem faced at Norochcholai. They will look in to the core details of the problems that had been identified and it is expected that they will rectify these identified problems in the second phase. courtesy: Ceylon Today