CEB-PUCSL dispute overshadows potential power crisis


The Power and Renewable Energy Ministry has brushed aside warnings of countrywide power-cuts in March and April due to trade union (TU) action by the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers’ Union (CEBEU). Deputy Minister Ajith P. Perera told the Sunday Times, he did not believe the CEBEU would resort to a measure as extreme as one that would lead to a countrywide power crisis.

He was speaking in the wake of warnings by the Engineers that power-cuts were possible by March, if their TU action continued into the dry season. TU action has been continuing for some months over a dispute between the CEB and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the power sector regulator, regarding the country’s long term power generation plan.

Engineers have to date kept away from Technical Evaluation Committees (TECs) which handle power purchase tenders. In the latest such development, CEBEU members refused to be part of a TEC appointed to procure 100 Megawatts (MW) of emergency power. Tender for the plant was opened on Friday (12) and will now have to be evaluated by a TEC, before a bidder is selected.

Mr Perera however, was hopeful that such action would not result in a power crisis in the next several months. “There have been occasions in the past where the CEBEU have helped us in times of dire need, even in the midst of TU action. I don’t believe that stance will change.”
The CEBEU held a different view. “If 100 MW emergency power is not available by March, there will definitely be power-cuts, as we can’t expect any rain during this period,” claimed CEBEU Committee Member Athula Wanniarachchi. In case of a breakdown in a major power plant, the situation will be aggravated further. Mr Wanniarachchi insisted the CEBEU was standing firm its members would not take part in TECs for any power procurement project, unless the Government resolves the dispute surrounding the Least Cost Long Term Power Generation Plan (LCLTPGEP).

Several power plants, namely Unit 3 of the Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant in Norochcholai (300 MW), Kelanitissa Combined Cycle Power Plant (160 MW) and Kelanitissa Gas Turbine 7 (100 MW) are also due for shutdowns at different times, from February to April, for routine maintenance. Meanwhile, private power plant Sojitz-Kelanitissa (160 MW) has been out of order from July 2017, due to a mechanical breakdown.

“The combined capacity of all the country’s hydropower reservoirs currently stand at about 68%. Once that level falls to 35%, the situation would be critical, as priority would have to be given to release water for drinking and agricultural purposes,” Mr Wanniarachchi elaborated. “As such, customers, especially industries will suffer.”

“The CEBEU would not take any responsibility if power-cuts do occur,” Mr Wanniarachchi stated, arguing that the Government and PUCSL should take the blame. “We are taking several measures to meet energy needs during the coming dry season, and purchasing emergency power is only one measure,” maintained Deputy Minister Perera, claiming plans are being put in place to avert power-cuts. Meanwhile, the Ministry was working hard to resolve the dispute between the CEB and PUCSL.

Mr Perera also said that, when it came to the country’s long term power generation plan, both the CEBEU and the Ministry are in agreement. That policy envisaged what he claimed was a “correct combination”, which saw a mix of hydro, renewable energy sources and coal among other things.

The problem, he stressed, was due to some officials of the PUCSL who were “clinging firmly to their own opinions.”
“We acknowledge the PUCSL has a right to voice its thoughts. What we are trying to do is narrow down the differences between their opinions and those of the CEB,” he remarked.

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