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CEB ensures uninterrupted power supply

General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Eng.W.J.L.Shavindranath Fernando, who was Project Director of the Upper Kotmale Hydro Power Project (UKHP) until its commissioning, told the Sunday Observer that the CEB would ensure uninterrupted power supply to the nation, although generation of hydroelectricity is presently limited because of water shortage due to the long-drawn-out drought.

The Victoria dam in full spill when the rainfall was ample

Thermal power, although very costly, is now being generated to meet the national requirement and the CEB had to go for short-term and long-term borrowings from state banks to tide over the situation. The borrowings would be settled when rains come anytime now and resumption of hydroelectricity is resumed, he said. The concerns expressed over the Lak Vijaya Coal Power Plant at Norochcholai is also unfounded and it is a very valuable project, he said.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: There have been reports that the CEB is running into a crisis ?

A: There is no crisis as such but what is happening is that there is an acute shortage of water and some financial straits. This kind of ups and downs are there in any organisations. During the first quarter of the year there has been no rain and shortage of water was encountered. Generation of hydroelectricity was limited and we had to generate large amounts of thermal power. Because of the high cost of fuel to generate thermal power, we incurred huge expenditures. It is true that we find it extremely difficult to find the money to meet the expenses. We go for short term and long term borrowings from the state banks to tide over the situation. But as soon the rains come and we are in a position to resume generation of hydro power, we will be able to pay back these loans.

Q: Many quarters believe that the Lak Vijaya Coal Power Plant at Norochcholai is a 'white elephant' and huge efforts and funds are being drained into it. Your comments ?

A: Lot of concerns have been expressed about the Lak Vijaya Power Plant in Norochcholai which are absolutely baseless. For instance let us take the performance of the first plant. We have spent in the tune of Rs.50 Billion over the installation of that plant. We have earned over and above the cost

of the installation of the plant by way of electricity generation which is over Rs.64 Billion. If we had had to generate the same quantity of power through thermal energy we would have had to spent another Rs.65 Billion. In fact the entire cost of the power plant has been paid back in the short span of two years and five months.

This shows how valuable the power plant is. Of course, we had experienced some breakdowns . The major breakdown was in the condenser. We have been able to rectify the fault in the condenser fully with the help of Chinese experts. The second plant is also now under test runs. It is running very well and it is running continuously.

Power station under construction

Q: Can you please tell the amount of power generated and supplied to the national grid at present from these plants ?

A: Both together generate 300 megawatt power which is very sizable.

Q: Are you confident of providing uninterrupted power supply even if the present weather condition continued for some more weeks or months?

A: That is our intention and desire. With the resources available to us now, we will be able to tide of over the situation. I must, however, point out that rainfall was very much low in the month of March this year unlike in the previous years, much less than what we had expected. Therefore, we are experiencing difficulties in relation to the additional funds that we require. But we are confident that we will be able to supply the requirement of the country without any interruption. We are anticipating rains anytime now to get over this situation.

If the rains come on time we will not have anything to worry about. All our thermal power stations are fully operative but at huge cost of money for purchase of fuel. If the rains come all this money will be saved to the country. It will be a tremendous boost to the CEB and to the power supply sector of the country.

Kotmale dam

Q: Are there any plans to start atomic power plants , like in the other countries of the region?

A: We will not even think of nuclear power at least for the next two decades.

Q: Since wind is also a source of power generation, do you have plans on that?

A: Wind power generation is fully operational in a big scale. Turbines for wind power generation will be increased substantially in the near future. We plan to generate over 50 megawatt power , specially in the Mannar coastal area.

Q: Are you confident about making the CEB a profit-making institution once again ?

A: Until about 1995 we were a profit-making institution. From that point of time onwards we have not been making profit in a big way. It was predicted that there will be a big loss to the CEB in 2013 to the tune of a staggering Rs.65 Billion. Beating all these predictions we made a Rs.20 Billion profit in that particular year. We had abundant rain last year and because of that we have been able to prove all predictions as false. Because we got rains on time , we made a good profit last year.

Q: Many multi-purposed irrigation projects which also generate power have already been commissioned with more to be commissioned in the future. Will they not add to the national grid?

A: We are not expecting anything from such projects in a big way because they are multipurpose projects and the authorities will have decide at the time of commissioning what they would do with the power that they are generating.

We cannot interfere with their plans for utilising the power that they would generate. Whatever amount that they are willing or deciding to add to the national grid will be utilised by us.

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