Govt officials trying to dim the lights on solar power – SIA

By Rajiesh Seetharam | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 11 2020
FT Govt officials trying to dim the lights on solar power – SIA

By Rajiesh Seetharam

A group of high-level Government officials are planning to reduce the unit cost of electricity offered to rooftop solar power generators post-elections, claims the Solar Industries Association (SIA).

Addressing a press conference, SIA Secretary, Lakmal Fernando stated that such attempts by certain officials were made with an aim to discourage solar power, which raises suspicions of whether they are benefitting from businesses that supply emergency power during electricity shortages.

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) currently procures rooftop solar energy at a rate of Rs 19.80 per unit, and ground-mounted solar energy at 

Rs 19.56 per unit, whereas it spends around 

Rs 22.50 per kilowatt to generate electricity using coal and Rs 39.62 per kilowatt for diesel- and oil-powered electricity.  

Many officials are only concerned over reducing the tariff rate for solar power by claiming that they were buying at Rs 19.80 and selling at Rs 16.30, even though solar power contributes only 0.6 per cent to the national grid, while other major sources like coal, diesel and oil cost far more, alleged Fernando.  

“Since 2016, only 270MW of rooftop solar systems and 62MW of ground-mounted systems have been added to the national grid. To achieve the President’s vision of 80 per cent renewable energy by 2030, the Government proposes to add 5GW through solar power, of which of 2GW is to be through rooftop solar and 3GW by a combination of ground-mounted and floating solar generation. To achieve this target, 200MW should be added to the national grid annually using solar power,” he explained. 

Some of the major obstacles in developing the solar power sector, Fernando noted, include delays in approving applications for rooftop solar power, obstacles that roof owners face during obtaining loans for solar power, an assessment charge of Rs 15,000 when applying for solar power systems under the ADB loan facility, and Government officials prioritising coal and diesel energy.

With regards to ground-mounted solar projects, Lakmal said that since 2016, out of the tenders called for 150MW, only 30MW of projects have been approved due to red tape. Thus, Lakmal suggests an increase in calls for tenders to increase the ground-mounted solar contribution to the national grid. 

 “Coal power plants are commissioned using borrowed funds, which the country needs to pay with interest. Solar energy is the best solution to save foreign exchange as 70 per cent of total energy cost of Sri Lanka is paid back to foreign countries as we rely on fossil fuel imports for energy,” he stated.  

He also expressed the need for development banking in Sri Lanka. 

“Development Banking can contribute to entrepreneurship development in Sri Lanka.  Commercial banks ask for various forms of collateral, while development banks start lending if the idea is good. NDB and DFCC were development banks converted to commercial banks due to pressure from an international banking organisation,” alleged Fernando. 

By Rajiesh Seetharam | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 11 2020

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