Lanka's growing thirst for power
By Santhush Fernando
Despite protests from residents and environmentalists,
Embilipitiya power plant is to start its operations from April this
year to become one of the largest power generators in Sri Lanka.
the backdrop where Sri Lanka is facing a severe power crisis, the
100 mega watt power plant would be generating a colossal 700 million
units per year, which would be ten percent of the total power generated
in the country.
and Energy Minister Susil Premajayantha, on March 11 in response
to a question raised in Parliament, said the construction of the
fuel-fired power plant, was almost complete and its commercial operations
were expected to begin in April.
Power Generation Embilipitiya (Pvt) Ltd a susidiary of Aitken Spence
is to operate the power plant for ten years and then transfer it
to the Ceylon Electricity Board on Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT)
company maintains that it had complied with Central Environmental
Authority (CEA) guidelines and other necessary regulations despite
allegations, raised by environmental and other groups.
Premajayantha during a visit to Washington D.C. in August last year,
met Caterpillar Power Ventures Corporation, who had entered into
the US$ 60 million joint venture power generation project with Ace
Power Generation Embilipitiya (Pvt) Ltd.
Divisional Secretary, Harsha Ilukpitiya told The Sunday Times that
the public was offered the chance to voice their objections during
November last year but not a single complaint was received by the
Secretariat or by any other Government institution.
alleged that although a newly set up organization behind these protests
had been invited on numerous occasions to attend environmental monitoring
committee meetings and for field visits, they hardly attended.
Embilipitiya Bar Association secretary Premasiri Abeysooriya and
the environment friendly people's organisation president who were
lobbying against the power plant told The Sunday Times that people
were protesting as it had been built without creating a proper awareness
among the people.
questions were raised about the Environmental Impact Assessment
(EIA), but none of the questions were answered either by the company
or by the Government", Mr. Abeysooriya said.
parties had misled the authorities citing that the surroundings
are sparsely populated and that there's no wildlife. Also nothing
about the paper mill has been mentioned in the EIA."
Abeysooriya said the buying price of one unit was not revealed,
which was confirmed by the Minister when he said the company had
not quoted the price of a unit while other firms sold a unit at
Rs. 9.9 or higher.
its inception in September 2004, the environment friendly people's
organisation had organized various protests and had even written
to President Chandrika Kumaratunga but had received no response
up to now.
Athukorala, a chemist attached to the Embilipitiya Paper mill told
The Sunday Times that the plant would consume 450,000 liters of
fuel which contained 2.7 percent sulphur and would emit 30 tons
of harmful acidic gases (sulphurous and nitrous gases) to the atmosphere
each day, thus making the area within a radius of 10 kilometres
prone to acid rains.
statistics given in the EIA, in ten years of operation the residents
in the area will suffer from skin diseases and the vegetation would
be destroyed by the acidic environment", Mr. Athukorala said.
Pathirana, President of the Chandrika Wewa Farmers' Association
told The Sunday Times that they had been lobbying since 1993 when
the idea was originally put forward, but the Government had turned
a deaf ear to their pleas.
Embilipitiya power plant project coordinator Joe de Silva told The
Sunday Times that 95 per cent of the project was completed although
only a handful of villagers raised objections. He said the company
had spent more than 25 million rupees for the electrification of
the area and another 30 million rupees was spent on road development.
It had also distributed 1,000 spectacles and had even held two medical
clinics. He said the company expected to allocate a considerable
sum of money annually for the development of the area.
de Silva further said that as all necessary clearances were obtained
from the Government the project would go ahead as planned. At its
optimum operation the plant would generate 700 million units each
year, Mr. Silva added.
Company had earlier set up two 20 MW plants at Matara and Horana
which had brought in a revenue of 1.7 billion rupees and had accounted
for 24% of the group's revenue.
M. H. Deepal (38), a shop keeper in the area told The Sunday Times
the power plant would create a lot of problems in the area. "After
its operations began a thin coating of oil could be seen on the
surface of the Chandrika Weva, from which we obtain water for our
consumption as well as for cultivation. Villagers are not against
the plant as 700 youth in the village have been given employment
in the plant and earn about rupees 30,000 per month. But when they
lose their jobs after the construction work is over they will then
realise it", Mr. Deepal said.
shopkeeper H. Sanath (42) who had been a resident since 1984, said
the company had deceived people by promising to give electricity,
water and even financial help.
for a small plot of land they paid compensations of upto fifty thousand
rupees. They give money to silence our voice", he said. 28-year-old
Upul Ranjith told The Sunday Times around 40 per cent of the youth
were being employed and face threat of losing their jobs. He said
that however 99 percent of the villagers were against the power
Power and Energy Ministry secretary P. Weerahandi said the Embilipitiya
plant was essential for the overall power generation in the country
and these protests against it started once 90 per cent of the project
was completed and that he suspects a hidden hand was trying to provoke