The Sunday TimesPlus

9th February 1997



Kotmale dried up
Power: who will pay?


Power: who will pay?

As reservoir levels plunge, the government has called in companies selling power on short term basis to supplement the grid. But this electricity comes with a heavy price.

Tharuka Dissanaike reports:

No power cuts this year, we have been boldly promised by the government. The Ceylon Electricity Board and the Ministry of Power and Energy are going to great lengths to assure the people that by no means is the country going to be burdened with power cuts this year. "No power cuts at any cost ," appears to be the motto of the State and so the year holds no dark omens.

But how will the government achieve this objective? The last we heard, the country's long term power generation capacity had not improved since last year. In addition the reservoir levels are decreasing drastically because of the current dry spell, which is likely to continue through February. Several power projects currently underway will only be commissioned later this year and will not be available in the pre- monsoon crisis period.

To meet current needs, the government has decided to go in for additional generating capacity in the form of short term power purchase agreements with foreign companies who have set up mobile generating units around the country and are selling power to the CEB.

Meanwhile an electricity tariff increase is on the cards, with the tariff going up by 23 percent from April this year. This very high increment is in order to cushion the deficits suffered by the CEB, which is a profit making company. By the power cuts last year, a total 300 million units of electricity was lost and the average consumer price of a unit is Rs. 4.20. This amounts to a huge revenue loss for the CEB. Large amounts were also spent on buying power from the private mobile generators.

This year, with the additional imported capacity, some 143 MW in all, the government and the CEB are quite sure that the power cuts could be avoided.

"The capacity is quite sufficient to carry us through the next few months," Channa Amarasinghe, Acting General Manager, CEB said.

Two companies have already begun generating and supplying power to the CEB grid on a short term basis. Aggreko is operating their battery of generators on a lease/ rental basis. The CEB supplies fuel- amounting to 120000 litres a day-plus pays the company a rental for the use of the generators, which comes to 215 000 Deutsch Marks( Rs 7.4 million) per week per 20 MW generator. The other company Cool Air , under a four year contract to supply power to the grid have an agreement with the CEB to sell the power at 8 US cents per unit. Wood Group, another company proposes to bring in a mobile Gas Turbine to work for one year, selling each unit of electricity at 11 US cents, but this is still on the negotiating table. All companies are selling electricity at a much higher rate to the CEB than they are selling it to the consumer. This leaves the Electricity Board running at a huge loss. Who will be paying the cost of this additional generation ?

For several years now the CEB has been plagued with the nightmare of a static capacity while the demand for energy kept growing. The misdeeds of politicians and corrupt bureaucrats kept pulling every new power project down. Finally came the great power crisis of last year. With its debilitating effects on the economy, the power cuts crippled many a small industry and threw the public into chaos with advanced time. In the aftermath, an imminent tariff increase. And if the country learnt any lessons from that terrible year, it is yet to be seen.

Reports on the hydropower situation are not promising. Reservoir levels are already low. The total reservoir capacity last Thursday stood at 600 Gwh ( 48%). The Meteorological Department said that the country is in for a dry weather spell upto mid-March when the first inter-monsoon showers could be expected. That does not augur well for power generation. 1150 MW of the 1400 MW power generation capacity depends on hydro power and monsoon rainfall.

" From December 18 last year, we have not got any proper rainfall," Jayatileke Banda, Deputy Director, Meteorological Department said. "The rainfall figures are much less compared to the same period last year," he said.

To add to this, the present dry weather spell was brought about by a cold dry air mass, originating from India, that is circulating above the country.

To overcome another power shortage this year, the government has hurriedly called on mobile generating units to come to the rescue. Aggrekko first came to the country last year, at the height of the power cuts. The then agreement for a 20MW cell to generate power for three weeks, was continuously extended and new capacity added.

While these small scale generators certainly seem a good idea, the cost of the entire operation would undoubtedly be tremendous. It is not clear who will be bearing this cost. "The CEB would probably have to absorb the loss," Channa Amarasinghe said. But the CEB reserves are also cut low by Treasury borrowing and investment in power projects. In the end the cost of this would be on the shoulders of the consumers. But what is the alternative?

CEB sources suggest that small power cuts lasting an hour at most, starting now would conserve sufficient electricity to take the country through the lean months. But this suggestion is totally rejected by the government which has by now clearly stated that there will be no power cuts this year.

" How the government can be so absolutely sure about the power cuts, it's difficult to say," President of the Engineers Union, Ranjith Fonseka said. "In every operation there is a degree of probability. We could say most probably there won't be power cuts this year, but there is no way of being totally sure."

This fact is quite obvious, since already there are unannounced power interruptions because of repairs to the 70 MW Samanalawewa power plant. Already we are short of power. What is in store for the next few months one has to wait and see. It is easy for politicians to promise, but to deliver is another story altogether.

The true meaning of Ramazan

By A.H.G. Ameen

The month of Ramazan is the most significant month in Islam, for many reasons. The divine message, the guide and the straight path to life was shown by the Holy Quran which was revealed during this Holy Month through the last Prophet, Prophet Muhammed (sal).

'The Holy Prophet was sent as a mercy to mankind', says the Holy Quran. The Holy Quran is compiled with 7 sections, 30 parts, 114 chapters and 6666 sentences.

One may be the most powerful person on earth but one has to leave once the call comes. But during this stay on earth he commits enormous sins from which he has no peace of mind. One who follows the Holy Quran will no doubt have peace of mind. The month of Ramazan provides ample opportunity through its period of fasting for deliverance from sins.

The Holy Quran says, 'O ye who believe, prescribed unto you is fasting as it was prescribed unto those before you that haply you may become God conscious. '- Sura ii 183. There are two significant features in this Quranic verse. Fasting has been ordained on you so it is compulsory that you fast. The second part is that you may become God-fearing and do good deeds. It is not just fasting but purifying yourself spiritually. You must attain 'Thakwa'. Then it becomes necessary that you engage in 'Ibadath' - good deeds to win the love of Allah, subhanahu Thaala.

The rewards from Allah for fasting are significant. Allah says: All the deeds of Adam's children belong to them, except fasting which belongs to Me and I will reward it. Fasting is a shield against hell and against the commission of sins. If one is fasting he is enjoined to avoid sexual relations with his wife and avoid quarrelling. A golden night is said to occur within the last ten days of the month. It is the night of power or honour and decree called the 'Lailathul Qadr' which is believed to be better than a thousand months spent in devotion to Allah. The Holy Quran was revealed in it.

At a time when spiritual values are eroding, the concept of fasting which the Holy Prophet stressed as conducive to peace and harmony among people 1,417 years ago, has a special meaning for today.

The culmination of the month of Ramazan is the beginning of the 'Id-ul-Fitr', the one-day festival. Strictly speaking it is a day of rejoicing for those who have observed fasting. The literal connotation of the word 'Id-ul-Fitr' is the 'Day of Charity'. The other festival is the Id-ul-Azha', the Hajj Festival. With the recital of thakbeer, 'Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar....' -God is great....... reverberating in mosques, Muslims gather in the morning for the festival prayers. It is important that they take a meal before going to the mosque on this day. The family get together at the first lunch after a period of fasting for one month. The visits of Muslims to their relations is another unique feature and children love it all.


Let there be sanity

G'day Brian

It was so good to catch up with all you blokes during my brief sojourn. I can tell you there was a distinct tug of the old ticker when Lanka slipped away under the plane's wings leaving behind all the loved ones, the all-knowing scooter-taxi drivers, the money-changers and the pedestrians who only looked one way when negotiating those monumental traffic jams!

It may be a while yet before I can join you guys for a Blue, Double-distilled. Mendis and whatever the hell else it was we had at the BRC before I left. By the way, isn't it about time you got rid of the B there, didn't see a single Dutchy, did we?

The sadness was also for the people out there, so fatalistic about what could happen to them at the hands of Prabha as they went about their daily lives; the soldiers and police at check-points at all hours of the day and night while we frolicked into the night and those displaced from their homes and loved ones, caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

Where did we get all that stoicism from, Brian was it our up-bringing, 'Karme' or some deeply- entrenched philosophy which taught us what puny little beings we are in the great scheme of things, so dispensable? Or from AirLanka, so aptly code-named by a direct descendant of Nostradamus surely, as we kicked our heels for yet another slight delay of four hours and an unannounced stop at Singapore?

"So sorry for the inconvenience", said the pilot many, many times, sounding completely shame-faced, "due to technical problems". One would have thought he could get it right after all these years, to cover up the fact that his machine had just completed a round-the-world flight and was suddenly told by his bosses "oops, we forgot, there's a set of bods down in Kuala Lumpur you'll have to pick up tonight".

And the guy obliged as all Sri Lankans do, in spades. In Singapore, I swear he must have picked up an extra load of faithful to Mecca-maybe to ease the burden of his colleague on the next flight - that we had them hanging from the rafters as we groaned our way to Colombo.

Or maybe learnt the art of packing humanity from the conductors of those private buses which ply on the roads. How on earth could you ask those passengers to do an honest day's work, Brian, after such journeys?

I dread to think of the day those blokes get hold of a book by that great satirist, Spike Milligan, and his "How To" books. Let the drivers brake harder at stops, he said, and when they are all thrown forward, on their hands and knees, presto, there'll be some more room to pack a thousand more!

Or maybe, they could get some Super Glue, he said, and paste more passengers onto the sides and the roof-tops too and they will all merrily go on their way to their destinations, their noses bleeding and lungs bursting, happy in the knowledge they had managed to get onto the damn thing anyway! That should make the advocates of free enterprise so happy and Anil Moonesinghe and his ideas of nationalised bus services, oh, so obsolete!And, lastly can I pay a tribute to the politicians of Sri Lanka. The world may change, technology may open up huge vistas for human endeavour but it was gut-warming to observe that our leaders would fight tooth and nail to preserve all that has kept us back for the last two thousand five hundred years.

How can we support this government in its efforts to bring peace, an Opposition MP I read, thundered in high dudgeon, for if they are successful, we will never come to power.

It was nice to know they had got their priorities right. What are a few thousand deaths and maimings every year when compared to our greater goal of establishing democracy and transparency, when every man or woman can be free to choose between the paths set for us by arms dealers, casino kings and dope smugglers and, of course, politicians. But let's live in hope, shall we Brian, that sanity will prevail at some stage.



Continue to Plus page 2 - Hong Kong: Will the honeymoon end? * Guharamaya:a cave of stone age man * Lankans go Thai in Male * Lankan style wedding packages

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