One million households to go solar – Minister of Power and Energy Ranjith Siyambalapitiya
WITH RAVI LADDUWAHETTY
Minister of Power and Energy Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said yesterday the Government will install solar power units on the roofs of a million houses, in a bid to generate environmentally friendly power.
He also said the Ministry and the CEB have tabled all the reports of the power cuts of the past in a true spirit of transparency but conceded that it was a lapse on the part of the government not to disclose these revelations to the media and the public.
He also said the costs of the Norochcholai Power Plant have been recovered, despite the 900 Megawatt facility, now fully operational, experiencing frequent breakdowns!
Here, the Minister is in conversation with Ceylon Today.
? Hydro, Thermal Diesel, Coal, Solar, Wind Power... et al. What is the way forward?
A: We hope to have a multi-pronged strategy for the future as it happens in other countries. We are also going in for big time strategy on Renewable Energy, which I call a battle or a war. That is why I have dubbed it as Sooriya Bala Sangraamaya. This is in the Government's quest for implementing environmentally friendly projects.
On the other hand, we are going ahead with a novel strategy of where we will be installing a million households with solar power units which will generate electricity.
We will be inviting competitive bids from the business community for the installation of various power facilities ranging from 1-10 Megawatts. Then, there will also be a major facility at Pooneryn where we will be adding 800 Megawatts. There will be a 100 Megawatt plant at Mannar and the CEB has already commenced the preliminary works on that as well. But, we need diesel and thermal as well. We have also initiated tenders for wind power where the rate has been reduced to Rs 12.37 per unit. We have also, for the first time, initiated a programme for Liquid Natural Gas as well.
? But the government first cancelled the proposed coal fired plants which were to be installed and operated by India and Japan at Trincomalee. Is the new LNG plant going to be installed in Trinco in lieu of that?
A: No. What we are going to install in Trincomalee will be a 50 Megawatt solar power plant. The LNG plant will be coming at Kerawalapitiya.
? But it is said the Government has received two bids for LNG from India and Korea. What is the position there?
A: It is not two but eight. The Tender Committee dropped two and six were shortlisted. Of that, one was not right due to the financial feasibility having flaws. Of the other five, the tender would be awarded to the best of the remaining five.
?So, what are the countries of origin of those tenderers?
A: I do not know them country-wise. But they are all mega corporates which are overseas.
? The problem that we have been seeing with Norochcholai right throughout, is reminiscent of the satire teledrama ALWAYS BREAKDOWN, which was a recurring problem which has still no long-term solution. What are your thoughts?
A: It is true that Norochcholai plant was faulty but that was the first plant. We have got the return in the investment on the plant by now.
? The long-term solution is to do a thorough investigation into the designs. All the design related shortcomings have to be reviewed and rectified. Your comments?
A: That is true that there are problems with the designs. But, it is too late to alter the designs now and proceed. There are also issues in that the home load is not enough to generate the power in that machine.
? Thousands of similar plants have been working round the world and they have not caused any problems. There is no new technology. The issue is not coal or in building construction at Norochcholai. It is a design's fault and a manufacturing fault. Why was this allowed to continue?
A: I do not know whether this is a unique problem to Sri Lanka. But, we have recovered the cost of the plant.
? What action will you take to publish the blackout reports of the past? Why have those reports not been published for public knowledge and in defence of your claim of good governance and Yahapalanaya?
A: I have tabled all the reports in Parliament. So, what better transparency than that?
? But, you have not kept the media informed at a news conference on all this?
A: The fact that I have kept Parliament informed is good enough. It is up to the media to report all this. It is also sad that the media does not have the same urgency and commitment they have and had at the time they break the stories during a power cut.
? It is said that there is a Draft Code of Conduct that the Intermediate Report has to be issued within 24 hours in the event of a power cut and a Competency Report has to be issued within a month. What is your take on this? What has happened to the Blackout Reports of September 2015, February 2016 and March 2016?
A: All the reports are available and I can make arrangements for you to have them.
? Granted that there is no legal obligation to announce blackouts but in civilized countries, they place this information on the public domain. Don't you think that it is obligatory on the part of the government to follow suit?
A: What better transparency is there than my tabling the reports in Parliament? These data will be in the Hansard for the next 500 years!
? Are you monitoring the implementation of the recommendations?
A: Yes of course.
? Will you have a rigid time table to implement the recommendations and will you go before the media and announce the implementation of the recommendations?
A: Yes. We will be implementing these on a short term, medium term and long term. We will be implementing it and we will be informing the media as you quite rightly say. The issue all this time is that it was my fault, and the Ministry for not informing the media of the progresses that we have made.
? Will you say who the Commissioners were and also say that you were satisfied with the reports that they submitted and that the best available technology that was available for the job?
? That takes us out of Norochcholai. Now the electricity demand has grown by 10.2% this year. That calls for the addition of 200 Megawatts annually. What are your thoughts?
A: The CEB has a long term generation plan. So, we know the demand at every given turn. For instance, the consumption was far greater last month over this month due to the terrible abnormal heat which was on.
? In 2015, the one thing that the government did was to cancel Sampur I and II. Nothing to be added in 2017 and 2018, 2019 and 2020, which means that no power plant has been added last year or this year. Aren't you scared about what could be a looming crisis?
A: No, we don't need to panic at all. There will be 500 Megawatts added by India and another 300 Megawatts added by India. There will be 100 Megawatts added in Mannar and initially 275 Megawatts of the 875 Megawatts added in Pooneryn. This will be happening by 2020 and we are well on course to achieve all this.
? Despite all these shortcomings, and there being nothing on the drawing board either, apparently a serious crisis seems to be looming. If there was a proposed plan on the drawing board, something would have happened even by 2020/2021, when the power was available at an affordable price. Your comments?
A: No. We have a well mapped out strategy.
? With such looming crises, how can you provide affordable electricity to the people, given that diesel plants are exorbitantly expensive?
A: The CEB is providing subsidized power to 3 million of the 5.5 million people who are connected with the grid. The CEB is not a commercial organization.
? How are you going to bridge the deficit, with solar and wind – with solar and wind being available only during the day time and with both March and April and September and October there being no wind, which means that you can't have power round the year?
A: We have a sustained plan for all these. That means that we have made assessments of the demand and supply needs taking into consideration the months which have less rainfall and other months which are inundated. However, there are the abnormal developments of the climate changes as well. There have been droughts in recent months which was the worst in 30 years and even then, we have not imposed power cuts. That was how good we managed. That way, I must thank the CEB officials and the staff for managing the sector so well. It was also tragic that the reservoir levels dropped to 27% of the capacity. The daily power production and generation came to less than 10% during the drought times, but we managed somehow.
? In the event of being a gas terminal and a gas generated plant, according to the Electricity Act, a long term plan has to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission. Your thoughts?
A: Yes. All our projects are tied to the Public Utilities Commission. As for the Gas Plant, the Government has decided to make it a three pronged project where there is the Gas Plant, the Terminal with the Supply which entails a network of pipelines. The Cabinet on Tuesday approved the calling of the tenders for the Plant and the Terminal.
? You have said that, as the Minister, you will not allow the electricity prices to go up. Are you legally empowered to say so, given that the mandate of the Ministry of Power and Energy is only to give guidelines to the sector?
A: Yes, I have. Irrespective of the theories of the political critiques of the government, we have to face the reality that this was the worst tragedy that the country has to face in terms of drought in 20 years. I have asked the Cabinet to either give a special relief on diesel taxes that the CPC pays. I have been given a subsidy of Rs 50 billion by the Treasury and we have used only 6 billion of that until now.
If not for that, the CEB is a very strong organization with a Rs 25 billion profit in 2015.
? The Government has given an undertaking to the International Monetary Fund that the Public Utilities Commission will not increase prices which means that these sectors have to stand on their own without waiting for handouts. But, with this, you are interfering with the broader government policy by meddling with the financial institution of the Government?
A: The Treasury gave us this line of funding as we were in dire need. Otherwise, there was no need for any funding.
? We heard through the media that you have given the CEB to recruit 3500 more employees when there are already 14,000 people. Are you confident that there is room and work for 3500 new employees or are you satisfying your political aspirations at the expense of an institution which the government itself says 'mind your overheads'?
A: We have not exceeded the staff cadre at all. For your information, the CEB has 20,000 employees and not 14,000! But, we have given power to 270,000 households which have poor people and who cannot afford electricity being poor. So, we are not a commercial organization but a benevolent organization. But, I reiterate that we have not exceeded our staff cadres.
(PIC BY J. WEERASEKERA)
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