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Questions linger over purchase of emergency power

27 May 2019 - 274   - 0

Since January, the Power and Energy Ministry has submitted multiple Cabinet papers seeking approval for varying quantities of emergency power, raising questions about whether scientific data is available for how much the country really needs.


By Namini Wijedasa

Cabinet this week approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to buy 200 megawatts from a Turkish Karpowership barge to be connected at Kerawalapitiya next month for six months at Rs 26.20 per unit of electricity; and another Karpowership barge to be connected at Galle in September 2019 for nine months at Rs 26.20.

But the transmission line from Kerawalapitiya (from which power from the 300mw Yugadhanavi plant run by West Coast Power Ltd is conveyed to the national grid) does not have sufficient capacity to carry the additional 200mw from the barge.

In Galle, the transmission line is six kilometres from the harbour where the ship will be anchored. This means that another line will have to be drawn from the harbour, completing land acquisition and other procedures in four months.

Government sources said that Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake has now claimed he will buy just 50 percent of electricity from the barge stationed at Kerawalapitya. And that he will purchase a further 65 percent of electricity from the ship at Galle.

“What is the basis for these numbers?” a sector analyst asked, requesting anonymity. “Many different Cabinet papers requesting approval for many different quantities of power have been submitted. This is like buying emergency power in darkness. It poses a fiscal risk to the country.”

First, Minister Karunanayake wanted to procure 150mw of emergency power. Then it became 400mw from the two barges. “After that he said 200mw,” a Government source said. “Now it’s 230mw. So, how much do we really need?”

The power ships are being contracted without tender . “As the Government has decided that current situation of power supply as an emergency situation [sic] you may proceed with procuring adequate emergency power capacity at least cost without tender procedure under the stipulated provisions of the Sri Lanka Electricity Act, No. 20 of 2009 and amendments thereof,” wrote Power and Energy Ministry Secretary B M S Batagoda to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Chairman on April 18, 2019.

The CEB has already bought 100mw of emergency power from Aggrekko International Power Projects Ltd, Altaaqa Alternative Solutions Global FZE of United Arab Emirates and V Power Holdings Ltd of Hong Kong. The prices are between Rs 28.70 and Rs 30.63 per unit of electricity.

A second proposed procurement of 20mw and 50mw from Ace Power Generation Matara Ltd and Asia Power (Pvt) Ltd has not received approval from the regulator, Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL).

The proposal for power barges was in addition to these. CEB sources said that West Coast Power Ltd has long been requesting a six-month system shut down for maintenance. This could not be granted because of the electricity shortage in the country. “When the barge arrives at Kerawalapitiya, the plan could be to give this outage to Yugadhanavi,” they said.

The request for 100mw of emergency power was first presented in a Cabinet paper in January but Minister Karunanayake later withdrew it, saying the CEB Engineers’ Union had said it wasn’t necessary. But there followed multiple Cabinet papers with conflicting numbers and requirement rising dramatically within a few weeks.

This includes the pre-January request for 100mwa; a Cabinet paper to get Ace Matara and Asia Power Sapugaskanda (70mw) online; a call on the CEB to start connecting Northern Power back to the grid (30mw); and the Cabinet paper for 400mw power ships.

Additionally, the CEB barge of 60mw which was not operational due to a broken transfer is now reconnected. One of the Cabinet papers even mentioned an electricity shortage of 500mw without any backing information or analysis.

“We do actually have a power shortage in the country which will increase year on year by about 150mw,” said the analyst earlier quoted. “But what we see now is no movement by the CEB on other projects, except fossil fuels. They could unblock the renewable energy projects and take up other things in the generation plan. But they have not awarded even the LNG projects.”

“What will happen is that, every month you delay other projects, is another month somewhere else where you have to buy emergency power,” he warned.

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