Expensive fossil fuels lead electricity supply for 3rd day

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Imported and pollutive fossil fuels (FFs) provided over 50 per cent of Sri Lanka’s) electricity needs for three consecutive days to Thursday (28 July) for the first time after seven days due to the waning of the monsoons and despite record, daily, hours long power cuts, Ceylon Electricity Board’s (CEB’s) Friday’s (29  July) data showed.

 In the prior seven days to Thursday, over 50 per cent of the island’s electricity needs were met by the cheap and clean renewable energy (RE) led by ‘CEB Hydro’ on three consecutive days to 25 July , while in the balance four days, ie on 22 July and again from Tuesday 26 July to Thursday 28 July  FFs provided over 50 per cent of Sri Lanka’s electricity needs in the balance three days.

According to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s 2021 Annual Report, the cheapest source of electricity generation to the CEB last year was ‘CEB Hydro’,  costing a mere Rs 1.67 a unit or per one kilo Watt hour (kWh) of electricity followed by Coal (Rs 10.87); non conventional RE such as Mini-Hydro, Wind-both CEB and PS, Biomass and Solar (Rs 18.99), “CEB Diesel” (Rs 29.01) and ‘PS Diesel’ (Rs 30.35), respectively.

However, Sri Lanka’s sole coal electricity generator, the 900 mw Norochcholai Coal Power Plant, built by the Chinese during the Mahinda Rajapaksa era sans tender call and incurring US$ 1.35 billion of taxpayers’ money to build it, is however, generally, only partially operative for several days, forcing the Government of Sri Lanka/CEB to be over reliant on the expensive diesel to meet a large size of Sri Lanka’s electricity needs on most days.

 But due to a US dollar shortage in the country led by corruption exemplified during Rajapaksa’s near 10 year tenure in office, from 17 November 2005 to 8 January 2015, Sri Lanka has no dollars to import not only the cheap coal to provide power to the country 24 hours a day, but also diesel to operate a regular bus service, resulting in partial schools and Government offices closures during a week, which is a record, whilst aiding and abetting socioeconomic unrest in the country. In Sri Lanka’s 74 year history of independence, never once did expensive Government foreign commercial debt (GFCD) as a percentage of total Government foreign debt (GFD) exceed seven per cent other than during the Rajapaksa era. GFCD which was a mere four per cent of GFD when Rajapaksa took office in 2005, hit a record 28 per cent in 2009, before reaching a record 51 per cent in 2012 and staying that way since. An example of GFCD is the above malfunctioning coal plant.

During this period, IMF’s Resident Representative to Sri Lanka Dr Koshy Mathai (2009-2013), warned the Government of excessive GFCD, but his warning fell on deaf ears.

 Meanwhile, in the 209 days that have transpired in the year  Thursday, RE was responsible for providing 50 per cent or over of Sri Lanka’s electricity needs in only 50 (23.92 per cent) days and FFs in the balance 159 (76.08 per cent)  days.

In related developments, of the total electricity supplied by the CEB to consumers in Sri Lanka on Thursday which was  38.10 giga Watt hours (gWh), FFs share was 19.22 gWh (50.45 per cent)  and RE’s share was 18.88 gWh (49.55 per cent) respectively.

Thursday’s FFs breakdown comprised CEB Coal (12.94 gWh), CEB Diesel (4.07 gWh) and private sector (PS) Diesel (2.21 gWh) respectively. Thursday’s  RE breakdown comprised CEB Hydro 17.05 gWh, equivalent to 90.31 per cent of total RE generated on that day, followed by PS Mini-Hydro (1.42 gWh), CEB Wind (0.14 gWh), PS Solar and PS Biomass (0.11 gWh each)  and  PS Wind (0.05 gWh)   respectively.

“CEB’s Hydro” breakdown of Thursday comprised Mahaweli (8.27 gWh or, equivalent to 48.50 per cent of total “CEB Hydro”), Laxapana (6.33 gWh (37.13 per cent) and Samanalawewa (ie both Samanalawewa and Kukule Ganga hydroelectric power projects (HEPPs) together, 2.45 gwh (14.37 per cent)), respectively.

‘Mahaweli Hydro’ comprises Victoria, Randenigala, Rantanbe, Kotmale and Upper Kotmale HEEP projects, respectively. Victoria, Randenigala, Rantanbe and Kotmale HEPPs were built during the J.R. Jayewardene era after obtaining grant and concessional aid from the West.

Upper Kotmale, conceptualized during the Jayewardene era was built during the Mahinda Rajapaksa era after obtaining concessional Japanese aid. Samanalawewa  conceptialised during the Jayewardene era was built during the Ranasinghe Premadasa era after obtaining concessional aid from Japan and Kukule Ganga conceptualized during the Premadasa era was built during the Chandrika Bandaranaike era after obtaining concessional aid from Japan. Laxapana, built during the D. S. Senanayake with Sri Lanka’s own money was subsequently extended after obtaining concessional World Bank aid.

By Paneetha Ameresekere