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DateLine Sunday, 19 August 2007

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Government Gazette

Norochcholai power project will generate 3,000 jobs directly

Sri Lanka to-date has dismally failed in its quest for self-sufficiency in power or simply electricity. Moving in the footsteps of our forefathers, the country was lit by electricity generated by hydro-based sources. The generation was far below our requirements.

It is an accepted fact however that electricity is a crucial pre-request for development. Electricity should also be made available at an affordable price to the consumer. Development and an envisaged economic growth rate of around 8 per cent, sans electricity is a myth.

Referring to the paramount importance of this scarce resource of electricity in the overall development of his country, the Soviet Union's founder V.I. Lenin had quite rightly sees that a backward agricultural country could evolve itself into a newly industrialised nation, only when its power requirements are met.

Nevertheless, for more than fifty years of our post-independence era, the hydro-power generation was effected by the rivers which originated from the central hills and flowed down the slopes of the country.

The hydro-power stations of Lakshapana, Samanala, Wimalasurendra, Canyon, Nava Lakshapana, Ukuwela, Bowatenna, Kothmale, Victoria, Randenigala, Rantambe, Samanalaweva, Inginiyagala, Udawalawe and Kukuleganga belonged to this category which contributed to generate around 1209 megawatts of power to the national grid.

The power thus generated was only limited to 35 per cent of the total demand envisaged by the country. The growth in population, broadbased economic development, local and foreign investment and large-scale industrialisation and other demographic factors had contributed immensely to the equation. The supply was far below the demand and it was evident that the country was heading for a crisis situation in the energy sector.

The balance requirement of around 65 per cent of the country's energy was provided by the existing Diesel-powered stations located in an ad-hoc manner around the country. The escalating costs of oil in the world market by the day, proved beyond doubt that the diesel-powered generator was not the panacea for the aggravating energy crisis.

Ever since the crisis surfaced in the early seventies or even earlier, several schools of thought emerged within the power and energy fraternity among scholars and intellectuals. Alternatives were suggested, plans were drawn up and feasibility studies made.

Every alternative project had its inherent strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, merits and demerits and of course a share of advantages and disadvantages. None was perfect and sans blemish.

The origins of a coal-powered plant could be traced back to the early 1980s. However, plans for the first ever construction of a coal power plant at Norochcholai in the Kalpitiya peninsula, Puttalam district and the North Western Province of Sri Lanka, was made in the 1990s.

The most significant and relevant in the plant's installation was its environmental impact which had been closely studied and analysed. However, their findings were sometimes exaggerated or highlighted with misinformation, misjudgement or occasionally with malice.

Albeit the coal plant was a blessing in disguise to the region, to some it looked a monster which had descended to destroy the whole of the Puttalam district. Some analysts argued that the plant would cause the loss of livelihood to the local farmining and fishing communities.

Communities instigated by these theories took to the streets in protest. Political exigencies over-whelmed a crucial national issue and a necessity. Consequently, the construction of the plant in Norochcholai had been delayed by a decade.

The status quo still remained and dominated all other concerns. We are consistently confronted with the burning issue of rising oil prices in the global markets, and the resulting hikes in electricity tariffs which are believed to be the highest in Asia if not the world.

The ever-increasing electricity costs are driving the domestic consumer from pillar to post and crippling the small, medium and large-scale industrial sector as well. A sustainable solution to the energy crisis had to be found, and found soon, or be doomed. It was in this backdrop that President Mahinda Rajapaksa symbolically inaugurated the long-overdue and stagnant 'Coal-Power' plant at Norochcholai recently.

As the Power and Energy Minister John Seneviratne noted at the function, it was President Rajapaksa's strong political will and his astute leadership that made this event a reality.

The inauguration invariably marked a great leap forward in the government's genuine efforts of solving the energy crisis within the next few years.

This endeavour was yet another true manifestation of the 'Mahinda Chintanaya', in the provision of 'Electricity for All' policy. Recognising the necessity and the urgency of the Norochcholai Plant at the present juncture, President Rajapaksa urged all the stakeholders of the project to expedite the construction process. "If not for the unfortunate setbacks this project had to face in the past, instead of inaugurating, I could have commissioned it today", he said.

"As electricity tariffs are entwined with the global oil market prices which are continuously rising, I urge all concerned to complete the project at least one year ahead of schedule", the President further said at the epoch-making symbolic inauguration ceremony which marked a paradigm shift in the landscape of power and energy in Sri Lanka.

Despite the ongoing conflict in the North and the East, the President in his wisdom, vision and with foresight took the bold decision of launching the Norochcholai, Upper Kotmale and the Kerawalapitiya power plants which would contribute around 3000 megawatts of power to the national grid by 2015.

The mega development project did dislodge and displace 72 odd families domiciled in the region. Nonetheless, President Rajapaksa, a people's leader being deeply concerned about their welfare, had directed the relevant ministries to do the needful to mitigate and minimise the address effects on the people.

These 72 displaced families have been provided alternative new housing with all amenities and infrastructural facilities, inclusive of potable water, electricity, roads, transport and the like, in a housing complex at Daluwa in Norochcholai.

Rural electrification facilities have been provided for Norochcholai, Daluwa, Senapura and Narakkalliya. Work is already under way in the 40 feet wide, 40 kilometre stretch of the Puttalam-Kalpitiya road.

The Power Plant will undoubtedly be of yeoman service to the people of the Puttalam district in their path to progress. Around 3000 jobs are to be generated directly by the project for the people of the Puttalam district. The Power and Energy Ministry has also agreed to grant them a 50 per cent tariff reduction on their electricity bills.

Last but not the least, the assistance and co-operation extended by the Chinese Government in making this mega project a reality should be greatly appreciated.

The financial services offered by the Chinese EXIM Bank and the CMEC Company of China to whom the construction of the plant has been assigned to, should also come in for praise.

 

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