EconomyNext: Sri Lanka’s power engineers warn of blackouts from June 12

Sri Lanka’s coal power plants which supply up to 50 percent of energy to the country would be shut down from next Tuesday unless authorities provide environment clearances for standard which the plants already meet, engineers at the state power utility has warned.

Several other plants for which the power regulator has not given licenses for will also be shut down, the utility’s engineers union said, leading to widespread blackouts from June 12, in the latest move in a game of brinkmanship to persuade authorities to build the cheapest power plants.

“From Tuesday we will shut them down one by one,” President of the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union, Saumya Kumarawadu told reporters.

“We are not doing this to win any trade union rights.”

The environmental authority in Sri Lanka’s Wayamba province has not given the environmental license for a 900 MegaWatt coal plant since despite an application being lodged by the CEB, the Union said.

Engineers say the plants comfortably meet minimum emission standards.

However environmentalists have gone to courts, and approvals have been delayed while they are supposed to come up with a settlement.

Under a work-to-rule the engineers will not operate a plant that is effectively ‘illegal’.

“After Tuesday we will not do illegal things,” Kumarawadu said. “To prevent a system breakdown we will announce a power cut schedule.”

Because rainfall is now strong power cuts may be limited to about two hours, union officials said.

The engineers union are currently on work-to-rule protesting a decision by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka to alter its long term generation plant to remove cheaper coal plants in favour of liquefied natural gas, which is cleaner.

The unions say regulator acted outside is powers. The regulator says it was within its powers and was acting according to a policy declared by President Maithriapala Sirisena. The President has since denied a ‘no coal’ policy. The matter is now before courts.

The CEB and the Union are due to meet Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday.

The regulator had earlier also denied the CEB to permission to operate a 60 MegaWatt barge mounted power plant which is Colombo port.

A 100MW plant hired on emergency basis from Aitken Spence in Embilipitiya has also been denied a license, though it is an approved plant by the regulator.

All the plants will be be shut down, the union said.

The Union however said there were problems at the Norochcholai coal plant in storing coal and also with fly ash at times. “We are not saying that there are no problems,” CEBEU ex-President Athula Wanniarachchi said. “But these problems can be solved.

The CEB has already awarded a contract to build a wind barrier to stop coal dust from being carried away by the wind. They claim that the anti-coal lobby had also delayed its construction for several months using various ruses.

The CEB originally planned for a Japanese plant to be built but due to protests from environmental and religious lobbies the project fell through. (Colombo/Jun07/2018)

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