Norochcholai - political hypocrisy and reality:
'Breakdowns will not cause power cuts'
Providing an uninterrupted power supply, for the population to attend
their day-to-day needs, for industrialists and investors to engage in
their industries and for the smooth functioning of businesses and other
essential service is the responsibility of any government. Though
considered a luxury in the bygone era it has now become a basic need of
any human and cannot be compromised by any responsible government.
The Lakvijaya power plant
Pic: Nissanka Wijeratne
For Sri Lankans the politics of 'power' is not an unusual phenomena
as they have experienced the way politicians used the 'power' tool to
topple governments and also brought disrepute to governments in power.
In 'power' politics, Norochcholai, has always been a hot topic.
When Sri Lanka was striving to strike deal on coal fired power plant,
the cheapest source of generating power to meet the increasing power
demand in the country, Norochcholai coal fired plant automatically
included into that dialogue on power. There was a tug-of-war between the
governments and the common masses who were genuinely protested due to
their concerns over the Norochchcolai power plant or else influenced by
politicians in late 1990s about the project that wast to be implemented
to facilitate healthy economic growth in the country.
But the politicians of that era could not overcome those obstacles to
clear the path for the implementation of the much needed coal fired
power plant of the country. They succumbed to the pressures of the
masses who protested against the project may be due to sheer ignorance
of the future situation of the country or may be due to the influence of
narrow minded politicians, without going ahead with the project.
However, the project which was in need of urgent implementation
became reality only after President Mahinda Rajapaksa came into power in
2005 daring to take the much urgent policy decisions to go ahead with
project. Yet, even after the commissioning of Norochcholai coal fired
power plant adding 300 MW of power to the national grid and boosting the
power generation capacity of the country into 3400 MW, Norochcholai
power plant has not relieved from the power politics of the country.
From the date of commissioning in mid 2011, it became a constant topic
of the media, as any failure of that power plant has been highlighted in
the media thus making it a point for the politicians to play sixes in an
open ground. But the extent of criticism over the project has increased
in many folds with the temporary shut down of the power plant due to
technical deficits reported recently.
According to Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi who
explained the real situation behind the Norochcholai coal fired power
plant to media last Thursday, the power plant has become a cynosure of
the media as it is the one and only coal fired power stations in the
Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniaratchchi, Ministry
Secretary M. M. C. Ferdinando and officials at the press
conference. Pic: Siripala Halwala
"As a responsible government we can assure the people that there will
be no power cuts and tariff revises in electricity bills owing to the
situation, because we are in possession of enough power stations to meet
the peak hour electricity demand of the country", she assured.
According to Power and Energy Ministry and Ceylon Electricity Board
officials three power stations, the Norochcholai coal fired power plant
(300 MW) combined cycle power plant at Kelanitissa (55 MW) and
Randenigala hydro power stations are not functioning at present due to
deficits reported in the power stations.
"A leak in the condenser has resulted in the shut down of the
Norochcholai power plant and we are trying our best to find a permanent
solution for the failures of this power plant which generate power
through a highly complex technical process," the Minister said.
The China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) during the
discussions held on Friday with the Power and Energy Minister Pavithra
Wanniarachchi and the Ministry officials said that steps would be taken
by the company to resume the operation of Norochcholai coal power plant.
The officials of the CMEC stressed that all arrangements are in place
to resume the operation of the power plant soon. Chairman of CMEC Zhang
Chun told the Minister that the entire power plant would be brought
under thorough inspection by the Chinese and Sri Lankan engineers.
He said that experts in the fields would be brought to the country
for the resumption of operation in the power plant. CMEC chairman Zhang
Chun said that they hope to carry out the repairs in the power plant
after conducting thorough examination of the plant.
"All efforts are taken to resume the operation of the plant", Zhang
She said she had indicated to Chinese Embassy officials who met her
this week that the Chinese Government must also share some
responsibility for the issues at Norochcholai as the CMEC was
recommended by the Chinese Government.
"They should also share the responsibility of it as the failure of
the plant reflects badly on the Chinese Government itself," she said.
"What we need now is to have a power plant equivalent to the cost we
paid and have a permanent solutions for the failures reported in the
power plant," the Minister said. "I believe that anywhere in the world
if any country is having power plants which generate power through
complex technical processes, there are possibilities to experience
technical failures. That is why they are having more and more power
houses which can generate power at low cost," she said.
The Minister pointed out that though some people are talking about
the losses incurred due to the failure of the power plant they are not
talking about the benefit the country gained through the implementation
of this project after failing to implement a coal fired power plant for
30 years by successive governments since 1982.
"They do not aware that since the commissioning of the power plant
the CEB has been able to recover the cost incurred in the project and
also earn another Rs.10 billion in excess when compared to the Rs.7
generation cost per unit at the Norochcholai power plant and the Rs. 25
generation cost per unit when generating power at other thermal power
plants," she said.
"From the day I assumed duties as the Power and Energy Minister we
have taken initiatives to start Sampur coal fired power plant with
Indian assistance on the instructions of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and
are in discussion to launch another coal fired power plant with the
assistance of the Japanese government in addition to the implementation
of the Broadland hydropower station," the Minister said.
Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Energy, M.M.C. Ferdinando said
that the frequent breakdowns at Norochcholai are now under investigation
as it need to be rectified permanently.
"Those frequent failures may be due to, the use of substandard
machinery and parts at the plant, lapses or human failures on the part
of the engineers and technicians who worked on the plant or due to the
design flaws. These three possibilities are now under investigation," he
said. "There is no need to hide the financial losses the CEB incurred
due to the breakdown of the power plant as it generated power at low
cost. But compared to the financial losses the CEB came across in the
past the CEB benefited much from that project due to its low cost power
generation," Fernando said.
He said since July 2011, 4.8 billion units of electricity have been
generate from this plant and the benefit of the project can be estimated
by calculating the amount the CEB has to pay for the thermal power
generation by spending minimum Rs.25 per unit compared to the Rs.7
generation cost per unit from the Norochcholai power plant.
He said though there are reports about the second phase of the
project also it has not yet reached the commissioning stage.
"We are still in the process of evaluating the parts of the plant
that are been assembled in accordance with the technical standards. Then
only it will be used for commercial operations," he said.
He said that the CEB has to delay the commissioning and commercial
operation of the second phases of the project as they want assurance
that there wont be technical failures in those plants also. "We are
determined to go through the entire process of checking the plant by
having testing runs and reliability tests of the second phase of the
power plant before connecting it to the national grid, because we
connected the first phase of the project without subjecting it to the
reliability testing," Ferdinando said.
He said that they will not allow the Chinese company that built the
plant, to deviate from their responsibilities if it is determined that
deficiencies on their part had contributed to the breakdowns.
However he said they have also committed to look into the situation
even though the guarantee period of the power plant has already been
"They have assured that this will be rectified without incurring any
additional cost to the Government. We are also expecting to get this
power plant repaired as soon as possible," he said.
The Secretary also refuted the allegations that these power plants
are intentionally damaged so that the private sector power plants can
sell their power to the CEB. "There is no truth in those allegations and
we are in the process of reducing those agreements to purchase power
from the private sector at higher cost with the commissioning of the
second and third phases of the Norochcholai power plant," Ferdinando