‘Absolutely no Intention of Imposing Power Cuts’-Champika Ranawaka

by Camelia Nathaniel

For the first time in the history of power generation in the country three consecutive monsoon seasons have failed, plunging the country into a severe power crisis.

However, Minister of Power and Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka said that in spite of the lack of rains and the dwindling water levels in the main reservoirs, the general public have been supplied electricity continuously without any power cuts.

In an interview with Celyon Today he said, even with three consecutive monsoon seasons failing and the country’s hydro power capacity dropping to around 12% capacity, the CEB has not imposed power cuts. Even at heavy losses to the CEB due to the thermal power generation of 86% in order to meet the country’s power requirement, we have not inconvenienced the general public.

Q. There is speculation that power cuts are inevitable, due to the lack of rains, especially in the catchment areas, is this true?

A. There are many rumours that are being spread that a power cut is looming due to the prevailing drought situation. However, I would like to assure all our consumers that we have absolutely no intention of imposing power cuts.

Q. There are numerous theories about the reasons the water levels in reservoirs have dropped. What is your opinion?

A. Well, yes. Some believe that it is due to the landing of sea planes that there is no water for hydro power. But, I must say that there is absolutely no truth in this allegation. The only reservoir that we had plans to land sea planes on was the Castlereigh. However, that is the reservoir that has the lowest water levels of 11%.

The other allegation is that the tanks are filled with silt that is restricting the capacity of these tanks. However, when any reservoir is being built, there is an area known as the depth storage. This area below the sluice gates is built to collect the stones and mud. In lager reservoirs this area can be left without requiring cleaning or flushing for around 100 years. Most of the larger reservoirs in the Mahaweli zone still do not require flushing as the depth storage has not even filled two thirds.

The water that is below the sluice gates is of no use. Therefore, this is the area that fills with silt, but it does not affect the functioning of the sluice gates. If by chance the silt levels are at the level of the sluice gates then we will flush it out.

However, there was a slight problem at Moussakale and Castlereigh, but dredging was done in these two reservoirs six years ago. The smaller reservoirs such as Laxapana, Rantambe and Canyon are flushed out regularly by the Irrigation Department. Therefore, I think this theory of reservoirs filling with silt hampering the capacity of the reservoirs is not true at all.

The actual reason is that three consecutive monsoon rains had failed, probably as a result of climate change. Although we have had occasional failures of timely monsoon rains, we have never experienced consecutive failures of monsoons before.

Q. Why is the weather changing in this manner?

A. The fact is no one can predict the weather patterns. America is currently experiencing power outages as a result of bad weather. Japan experienced power failures due to the tsunami in the recent past. In India five provinces are affected by the drought and hence are experiencing power outages. Due to global warming even the weather patterns are behaving in a chaotic manner.

In our hydro power history the lowest hydro power generation capacity has been recorded at 35% while the maximum is 45%. However, currently the capacity of hydro power generation has dropped drastically to 12%. Throughout the year it has been less than 20%.

Since 1995 we have been experiencing power cuts even with the demand at only two thirds, and much higher water levels. Until 2009 there were power cuts imposed due to the low water levels in the hydro power reservoirs.

However, with thermal power capacity being enhanced since 2009, we have been able to supplement the additional power requirement with thermal power.

Those who are shouting about electricity today never built a single power station during their tenure. A single megawatt was not added during the tenures of President J.R. Jayewardene, D.B Wijetunga or Chandrika Bandaran-aike Kumaratunga. Not a single megawatt was added by any of the governments that preceded us. What they did was to hand over power generation to the private sector, and they fleeced public funds.

However, for the first time the Kerawalapitiya power station was built under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005. The Puttalam power station and the Upper Kothmale power station followed. There were allegations that once the Kerawalapitiya power station is completed a unit of electricity will cost Rs 50; however, we now generate power there at just Rs 19 per unit. Even the Puttalam coal power station is running non-stop thanks to the dedication and expertise of local engineers.

The first hydro power generation plant in the country, the Laxapana Hydro Power Station took 30 years to complete. It was washed away, around three times due to floods. However, there were many religious observances conducted seeking divine intervention in order to complete this power station by the then Minister of Public Works, Sir John Kotelawala.

Q. How important is hydro power in the entire power generation process?

A. Hydro power generation is the cheapest due to the fact that water is a free resource unlike fuel, coal or gas. However, today we produce 80 to 90% of the power requirement by thermal power, which is costly. The CEB incurs an expense of Rs 70 to produce a single unit of power while we sell it for a mere Rs 16. On the contrary, a unit of power generated by hydro power costs only around Rs 2 as there is no huge cost factor, except for the initial investment, and maintenance.

The other factor is the entire electricity system control is done by hydro power. The reason is that as soon as the sluice gates are opened it can begin power generation instantly. However this cannot be done in thermal power generation. For instance for a diesel power station to pick up momentum it takes around three hours, coal power stations will take around three days to pick up.

Therefore water is vital for the functioning and system control of the entire power generation process. Without water we will not be able to control the system.

Q. What is the solution to this power crisis, and how do we overcome this?

A. The only way to overcome and face this power crisis is for the entire country to unite in conserving energy. One of our biggest weaknesses is that we point out the fault of others instead of asking ourselves what we can do. Currently, the public saves around 5% of electricity; however it must be increased to around 10% in order to face this power crisis effectively.

Q. What is the action you propose to take regarding street lamps and sign boards being lit up during the day?

A. Well, we will be bringing in new rules and regulation to curtail the wastage of electricity in this manner. We will implement higher charges for those who light up their buildings and business premises thus consuming more power, in order to persuade them to refrain from wasting power in this manner. However, these cannot be done overnight, they have to be implemented gradually.

With the second stage of the coal power station we will be able to handle the entire power capacity even without hydro power. The system will also be geared in a manner that it will not require hydro power, and therefore it will certainly solve all our power related issues courtesy: Ceylon Today