Is request for emergency power a scam? Consumer group asks

power

May 13, 2016 (LBO) – The National Consumer Network of Sri Lanka (NCNSL) says it is reasonable to suspect the motives behind the need for emergency power in the power sector.

“These days, the CEB is trying by various means to obtain 155MW of electricity from new diesel power plants under the pretext that the country needs ’emergency power,'” the consumer group said.

“However, the regulatory body, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka, has stated that there is absolutely no necessity to obtain such emergency supplies at higher prices.”

If the Ceylon Electricity Board purchases this power then it is obvious who will have to bear the brunt of the higher prices – the consumer, Asoka Abeygunawardane, executive director of the Energy Forum (Sri Lanka) said. He is also the Chairman of the Strategic Enterprise Management Agency (SEMA).

“It is no secret that the CEB incurred massive losses by obtaining electricity through thermal power plants over the last few decades.”

At that time the excuse that the CEB gave for purchasing power from private diesel thermal power plants was that there was a delay in the commissioning of coal power plants. However, that excuse is no longer valid since the CEB owns three coal power plants with a combined capacity of 900 MW, Abeygunawardane said.

With regard to the recent crisis, an additional question arises as to whether it was sabotage or not, he added.

In 2015, the power purchase agreements that the CEB had with two power plants, namely, the 60MW Colombo Power Thermal power plant and the 100MW ACE thermal power plant at Embilipitiya ended.

At the time, the CEB stated that there was no longer a requirement for the ACE power plant and that it would purchase the Colombo Power thermal power plant.

In the long term generation plan of the CEB it is stated that there was no requirement to obtain additional power from any source in the year 2016 and that all electricity requirements could be fulfilled via the existing power plants, he said.

“However, on the 22nd of March 2016, they suddenly do an about-turn and declare to the government that an emergency situation has arisen and that it would be unable to meet the demand in the months May-June-July with the existing power generation plants and that it had to purchase an additional 155MW of power from private sources to tide over this “emergency.”

“How did this turn of events come about at the CEB?”

The PUCSL informed the CEB on two separate occasions that it cannot accept the utilities reasoning on the matter and  accused them of providing conflicting information to the cabinet and the regulator..

The NCNSL says that the CEB has provided different reports to the cabinet on the one side and the PUCSL on the other on which areas would be vulnerable to this “shortage” and what the extent of that shortage would be.

“Now, it seems as if the CEB got its primary indicator on this so-called emergency in March because there were two island wide blackouts during that month. However, the actuality of the matter is that those outages were not due to a generation issue but rather, because of a transmission problem.”

According to Abeygunawardane there was no reason why power to the enter island should have been wiped out because one transformer at Kotugoda failed.

“There was absolutely no reason why it would take days to restore power stability to the country either and it is quite possible that the real issue is a serious error in the transmission and maintenance strategy itself.”

Yet, the CEB’s response to this is to declare an emergency and attempt to obtain power from private sources for a period of three months, he adds.

The NCNSL  in a statement said that the absurdity of the claim is compounded by the fact that the CEB wants to obtain this additional power during the time of the South Western monsoon season when there is abundant rain and hydropower is optimal.

“So, while the CEB wants to obtain high priced power when there is a full complement of it from our hydropower plants, it also proposed to cease obtaining this power when the rains have ceased.”

“This is completely irrational and unrealistic,” he said.