December 3 countrywide blackout - public hearing on March 3 | Sunday Observer

December 3 countrywide blackout - public hearing on March 3

6 February, 2022

A public hearing will be held on March 3 to ascertain the root causes for the December 3 countrywide blackout which was the  epicentre of the current power crisis, Public Utilities Commission of  Sri Lanka (PUCSL) Chairman Janaka Ratnayake told media last week.

Gamini Lokuge

Janaka Ratnayake

He said people will be made aware of the findings at the public hearing and the future course of action to rectify the current situation will be based on the findings.

The sudden country-wide power outage, triggered by a malfunction in the third generator of the Lakvijaya power plant at Norochcholai was experienced while the Electricity Board engineers called for an island-wide trade union action. The power outage compelled the engineers to suspend their strike.

Unannounced power cuts disrupted public life islandwide last Thursday as well, even though the PUCSL assured there will be no night time loadshedding to overcome generation shortfalls.

The power sector regulator warned tough measures under the CEB Act if the CEB resorts to enforce surprise power cuts, especially on the eve of the G.C.E Advanced Level Examination tomorrow. 

Power Minister Gamini Lokuge said the possibility of an act of sabotage cannot be ruled out for the current intermittent power outages.

The CEB Trade Unions including the engineers have pointed out that there will have to be up to four-hour power cuts until the hydro power stations commence operating in full capacity, something that is not predicted in the near future. The CEB asked for permission to implement daily two and a half hour power cuts early January but the PUCSL turned down the request saying their evaluations have shown the situation can be managed. 

The CEB maintains the non implementation of the long term generation expansion plan of the CEB has been the main cause for the present crisis. But the PUCSL and the Power Minister Gamini Lokuge say otherwise. They are not fully convinced that this power shortage is due to genuine reasons and are of the view the current crisis can still be managed sans power cuts. The PUCSL called upon consumers last week to use electricity sparingly during peak hours from 6pm to 10pm to avoid aggravating the situation.

The consumers have been asked to stop using air-conditioners and high electricity-drawing appliances in the night until the crisis is settled to ensure the demand is maintained within the generation capacity.

Minister Lokuge also said that the sudden power outages were a ploy to buy power from private suppliers at high costs.

“This situation is very unfortunate,” an official said. 

The Lakviyaja coal power plant at Norochcholai had not been functioning to its full capacity since December 3 till last week and the privately owned Sojitz Kelanitissa power station which generates 130 MW of power was deactivated for repairs.

The Kelanitissa thermal power station too was functioning partially due to a shortage in fuel supply by the CPC triggered by a post pandemic US$ crisis. All three stations were expected to operate by Friday (Feb 4).

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier said the CPC too was affected by the dollar crisis hence the CEB should import fuel needed for power plants on its own.

Meanwhile, the PUCSL heads held an emergency discussion with the Energy Minister last Wednesday to secure uninterrupted supply of fuel to the Kelanitissa thermal station. The Minister had promised to ensure one week of fuel supplies on several conditions - The CEB is expected to pay Rs.20 billion of the Rs.90 billion it owes to the CPC for the supply of diesel, fernus and other oil within a week.

After this week, the CEB will be required to pay cash on delivery for the CPC oil. The PUCSL Chairman said the two parties agreed to these terms at a discussion facilitated by the PUCSL to resolve the current stalemate. 

The Kelanitissa plant needs 10,000 metric tons of diesel per day. He said the CEB has enough stocks of other oil, including fernus and naphtha. ‘There was a logistical issue, the pipe line needs to be converted to diesel after using it for petrol which will take time. But, thereafter Kelanitissa will have a regular supply for one week.’

If things go according to the plan, the CEB will be able to avoid power cuts for the time being.

The PUCSL is also holding discussions with the private sector to explore the feasibility of using private generators during the crisis period. ‘They own a large number of standby generators. We had discussions with a few of them to infuse 50 MW between 6pm to 9pm at no cost to the CEB. The owners have agreed to bear the costs,’ Ratnayake said.

The PUCSL is planning to liaise with condominium authority as well to coordinate an arrangement for luxury apartments to use their own generators during peak hours to reduce the pressure on the national grid.

The idea is to reduce the massive demand for electricity during peak hours. The response from the consumers to the call to use electricity sparingly so far has not been satisfactory. According to the PUCSL, the power consumption the previous Monday was 2500 MW while last week it rose to 2700 MW, an increase of 200 MW. ‘If this is going to be the trend, the CEB will have no alternative but to go for load-shedding during peak hours with definite power cuts in some areas,’ PUCSL Chairman added.


President to accelerate renewable energy sector

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on February 2 made a sudden inspection tour of the Thambapavani wind power station in Mannar and ordered Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) officials to prepare a report on the locations where wind power stations can be installed.

The objective of the President’s visit to Mannar was to explore the possibility of expanding the renewable energy sector through accelerated projects to resolve the current power crisis, long term.

Over 248 Megawatts of power is being generated by the wind power stations around the country and plans are under-way to generate 70 per cent of country’s power requirement from renewable energy sources by 2030, a pledge by the President to the world community.


CEB should make plans in advanceGammanpila

“The Ceylon Electricity Board CEB should forecast possible power generation shortfalls and make plans in advance, without waiting for the last minute to obtain emergency power purchases at high rates. Already battered by a world pandemic, the Government or the CEB cannot afford such costly arrangements. In that sense the CEB has failed.

But we must accept that the former Government is more at fault for the present power crisis. They failed to set up a single power plant after 2014, in keeping with the long term generation plan of the CEB.

The gap between power generation and the demand has widened as a result and the country is currently facing a crisis. The CEB and the CPC together with the PUCSL are making efforts to manage the situation until the hydro power generation stabilises.”