Saving power, the only solution
The demand for power is
increasing worldwide and more and more countries are turning to
alternative energy sources to cushion the impact of sky-rocketing crude
oil prices in the international market.
Electricity was once considered a luxury and only affluent people had
access to electricity while a major portion of the country's population
depended on kerosene to light up their homes.
Less than 65 percent of households mostly in the urban and semi-urban
areas had electricity when President Mahinda Rajapaksa first took office
in November 2005.
Although the world has entered the space age, the majority of Sri
Lanka's households in villages were in darkness as kerosene was the only
choice to illuminate their homes.
Nevertheless, the President felt that electricity was no more a
luxury and the rural masses too should have the right to electricity,
not only to light up their homes, but also for other electrical
appliances such as radios, televisions, irons, refrigerators and fans.
Hence, new electricity schemes were launched in the country at colossal
costs to upgrade the living standards of people in rural areas.
Today, nearly 98 percent of the country's households have
electricity. The aim of the Government is to provide electricity to each
and every household soon. This resulted in the country's demand for
power increasing by over 300MW annually.
People in the Jaffna peninsula were the worst hit when LTTE terrorism
was at its peak and found it extremely difficult to obtain even
kerosene. However, the end of terrorism ushered in a new lease of life
for people in the North and the East. On the direction of the President,
electricity was provided to every village and Jaffna was connected to
the national grid after decades.
All this was done in the best interests of the people and the
country's demand for power surged to an unprecedented level. In this
scenario, the Government sought ways and means to meet the
ever-increasing demand for power. Unlike during the UNP regime or PA era
under former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the present Government was
determined to provide an uninterrupted power supply from the national
The UNP Government in 1993 under Ranil Wickremesinghe decided that
the state should not invest in power generation and invited small-scale
power generating companies to enter the market. The Wickremesinghe-led
Government signed 20 to 30-year long-term contracts to purchase
electricity from these privately operated small power stations at
exorbitant prices. The Government is now attempting to renegotiate the
contracts signed by the previous UNP Government.
When President Rajapaksa took office as the First Citizen nearly
seven-and-a-half years ago, he foresaw the increasing demand for power
and built new power stations. Thanks to his foresight, three new mega
power stations have already been commissioned.
The three newly constructed projects - Kerawalapitiya Thermal Power
Station - Upper Kothmale Hydropower Station and Norochcholai Coal Power
Station, increased the capacity of the national grid tremendously. When
Phase Three of the Norochcholai Coal Power Station is completed by the
end of this year, another 600MW will be added to the national grid.
Construction work on the Sampur Power Station will be launched this year
and this would further boost the national grid in two years.
Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia that provides an
uninterrupted power supply from the national grid. Even our close
neighbour - the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu experiences a 16-18
hour power cut daily. In contrast, the Government is meeting the
challenge of supplying electricity to one and all, expending a colossal
sum of money to generate thermal power. The cost of producing one unit
of electricity is a whopping Rs. 23.30 although consumers pay much less,
thanks to the billions of rupees pumped in by the Government as subsidy.
Divergent views have been expressed on the proposed increase of
electricity tariffs from next month. The Government was compelled to
take this painful decision as it is already incurring a massive subsidy
on electricity. Electricity rates would have been maintained at the
prevailing rates, had the Government imposed power cuts. People from all
walks of life were affected when power cuts were imposed in the past and
industrialists too were adversely affected.
Hence, the Government does not wish to take the masses back to that
dark era again. There was a time when only the rich enjoyed
uninterrupted power through fuel-operated mini generators while the
masses were groping in the dark. Despite the new tariff structure, the
Government will continue to supply power at a subsidised rate.
It is deplorable that opportunist Opposition politicians are doing
their damnedest to gain petty political mileage. Though they shout from
the rooftops that the poorest of the poor would be the worst affected,
this is furthest from the truth.
The increase for over 1.1 million households which use less than 30
units per month, is a mere Rs. 75 per month. Similarly, 1.3 million
households which use between 31 and 60 units per month would pay an
additional Rs. 174. Consumers who use between 61-90 units per month
would only bear an extra Rs 433 monthly. Over 70 percent of the total
electricity consumers belong to these three categories.There is no
gainsaying the fact that the electricity bills of all households were
comparatively less during those dreadful days when day and night power
cuts were the order of the day under the UNP regime and people were
deprived of electricity for a greater part of the day.
We also recall those frightful days when the JVP ordered people not
to switch on lights in 1988/89. The self-same people who kept the
country in darkness - the UNP due to its inability to provide an
uninterrupted power supply and the JVP due to its 1988/89 insurgency
when they blasted transformers, are now shouting themselves hoarse on
the tariff revision.
Some Western diplomats who are showing extraordinary concern about
electricity are even attempting to interfere in the country's internal
affairs. Is it right on their part to seek an appointment with the
chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board to discuss the tariff revision?
They should bear in mind that they too have contributed in no small
measure to the tariff revision.
Sri Lanka had used Iranian light crude oil at the Sapugaskanda
Refinery. But the recent sanctions imposed on Iran prevented Sri Lanka
from using this special crude oil for which the country's only refinery
was designed. Efficiency-wise, it was far better in the oil refining
Since Sri Lanka is now compelled to purchase crude oil from other
markets due to the sanctions against Iran, the production costs of oil
used to generate power and other purposes are also comparatively high.
Had these countries been so concerned about the people's well-being in
Sri Lanka, they should have permitted the Government to purchase crude
oil from Iran, which was offered at special rates.
Right-thinking people are acutely aware that the Government spends
billions of rupees to subsidise fertiliser and electricity. Apart from
the massive fertiliser subsidy provided from 2006 in keeping with the
Mahinda Chinthana, the Government continues to provide electricity at
the subsidised rate of Rs 481.50 per month to 1,111,125 families who use
less than 30 units per month. The Government also continues to provide a
subsidy of Rs 852 per month to 1,318,755 families who use 31-60 units
while it provides a subsidy of Rs 936 per month to 1,299,301 families
who use 61 -90 units.
This alone is ample testimony that the Government will continue to
spend millions of rupees to provide electricity at subsidised rates even
after the proposed increase comes into effect next month. To cap it all,
the Government spends billions of rupees on free health and education.
The surcharge the CEB had to bear due to the fuel price revision in
2012 was Rs 43 billion. A litre of furnace oil, needed for power
generation, increased from Rs 45 to Rs. 65, while the low sulphur
furnace oil increased from Rs 50 to Rs 70 from February last year. This
resulted in the CEB spending an additional Rs. 25 billion on its fuel
The crisis deepened further as the price of furnace oil and sulphur
increased again from Rs 65 to Rs 90 and Rs 75 to Rs 100 from this month.
The additional surcharge the CEB has to bear due to the latest increase
is Rs 28 billion. Hence, the electricity tariff revision was inevitable.
Whatever said and done, the proposed increase will have the least
effect on low income families. Saving power and going for alternative
energy sources is the only solution to face future challenges.