The Origin and Way out of the Energy Crisis - Part II

Introduction to the series

The subject of energy requires an in depth analysis on the aspects of background, historical events and possible strategies and programs for future energy security. These cannot be adequately treated in a single article even for a basic understanding. The first of these articles addressed the social and economic facets of energy in the current environment. The present Part II deals with the historical events leading to present crisis and open up the opportunity to discuss the possible remedies to avoid a recurrence and ensure a energy secure Sri Lanka


Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

The Origins of Present Electricity Crisis

The present crisis in nothing new and will also not be the last, unless proper and well thought out actions are taken now, to avoid repetition in the coming years. We have enacted this tragedy many times over the past years, even though power cuts were avoided by use of emergency power at high cost. The standard whipping boy at every instance was the dry weather and the lack of water in the major hydro reservoirs. But after getting through the crisis months until the rains resume, once more resorting to the high cost emergency power and sometimes boasting about the avoidance of power cuts, every one particularly the Ministry of Power and The CEB goes back to sleep. Once more their attempts to push down the throats of the people, their pet large scale fossil fuel based power projects, using much jargon and obfuscation, for such projects comes to the surface. Many machinations and as publicly demonstrated, totally unacceptable arguments are made to support such projects. These have been amply shown up during the public consultation events organized by the electricity sector regulator The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka ( PUCSL). The submissions made by a wide spectrum of highly placed professionals and ordinary consumers are available in the PUCSL web site

The plans and programs and activities of the CEB which is an entirely state funded institution, had been a closed book for its major stakeholder, the general public. Fortunately the activation of the PUCSL through the Electricity Act No 20 of 2009, with the amendment in 2013 by Amendment No 31, has provided some access to the ever suffering consumer public to gain some knowledge on the electricity sector operations and what has been proposed for the future.

Hitherto the activities of the sector has been totally dominated by the officials of the state monopoly and the consumers have had to accept without question what has been dished out on their interpretation of what is claimed as the least cost generation options and ignoring all other options, trying to force implementation of only their own programs.

Accordingly there is now an additional whipping boy to hood wink the public, claiming that the crisis is due to non -approval of the Long Term Electricity Generation ( LTEGP) submitted by the CEB by the PUCSL. This is claimed irrespective of the many questionable assumptions and data used for the generation of the latest version of the LTGEP - 2018-2037 which were pointed out at the public consultations and are available in the public domain ( See PUCSL Web

The fact remains that based on the previous LTGEP covering the period 2017-2035, which had received the approval of the PUCSL some 995 MW of power plants have been approved by the Ministry of Power and Energy. The Secretary Ministry of Power and Energy had issued as specific instruction in 15th June 2017 to proceed with the implementation of these power plants which consisted of 225 MW of Solar Parks, 270 MW of wind power plants and even the 300 MW LNG power plant. Of these only a few 10 MW Solar parks and wind projects have been implemented by private sector investors since then. The later version of the LTEGP for the period 2018-2037 too has been approved by the PUCSL with some amendments based on ad hoc changes of policy by the Cabinet , which too is being refused by the CEB. One wonders how they can ignore the directions of the regulator whose role is specifically spelled out in the Electricity Act.

The Sampur Story

Using the situation created by the recent power cuts, the Samour Saga has once more raised its head in spite of the very definite undertaking given by the Secretary Ministry of Power and Energy to the Supreme Court that the Sampur Coal Power Plant has been abandoned. It is important for the true situation in respect of the Sampur Power plant has been discussed in detail By Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri.

The issue of the totally unacceptable findings of the EIA report prepared by the Indians and received approval of the CEA in spite of the stringent objections of CEA's own technical advisors is reported in the article Sri Lanka is most fortunate that this project did not proceed considering the devastation caused by the Norochcolai coal power plant which continues to operate in total disregard to even the minimal environmental protection measures stipulated. Any private sector power plant or even a small industry would have been shut down by the authorities if they operated under such violations. Evidence is available of many such instances.

  • The contention that Norochcholai power plant provided a significant proportion of the grid power capacity is no excuse to violate the people's rights for a healthy and a conducive living environment, which is the very purpose of the CEA regulations. The CEB or any other entity state owned or privately owned, should not be given the freedom to act against such regulations. Since these problems were known from the time that this plant was commissioned, it would be an admission of lack of competence, if either these defects were not rectified even without pressure from the authorities and the public or to come up with other alternatives. It is the responsibility of engineers to be conscious of their professional and moral obligations even without the legal requirements. There are indications of total disdain of the rights of the people for a healthy and livable environment, in the pretext of providing electricity at seemingly least cost.
  • Under these circumstances consideration of any more coal plants, even using the so called " Clean Coal" technology would be flogging a dead horse. The mere word " Clean Coal " by itself is an oxymoron and is best explained by the Sinhala saying " Kiri Diyeni devuwath anguru suduwana kaleknam nath" You can make carbon white even if washed in milk.

Once the decision was made to abandon the Sampur Coal plant there should have been plans to provide alternate means which was not done. This is eminently feasible and options are available without recourse to any more coal power plants, and these are obvious to any sane person considering these options in a proactive manner rather than forever citing difficulties which the world had proven to be now resolved.

The Liquid Natural Gas ( LNG ) Story

The use of Liquified natural Gas for power generation has been discussed for some time and the discovery of significant gas deposits in the Mannar basin added more support for this suggestion. As such LNG was an approved candidate for future generation and have been listed in the approved LTGEP and further sanctioned for implementation by the Secretary of the Ministry of Power in his letter to the CEB in 2017. The excellent article by Dr Janaka Rattnasiri in the Island News paper of 27th March 2019 ( ) provides the chronological back ground on the proposal for the implementation of the 300 MW LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya. This tender award has been contested in the courts and it is quite unclear when a firm award can be made for this plant could be constructed and export power to the national grid.

But this proposed project opens up an interesting question which seems to have been ignored in the ongoing dialog. The tender inquiry has called for the installation of a LNG plant with the capability of operating on oil initially until such time LNG is available. This is presumably to allow the procedure and the many issues related to the supply of LNG to be resolved and as an interim measure. It is not clear if a specific period has been given in the tender conditions and also if there is any provision to cater to the situation if the LNG supply gets delayed beyond such period. Also the most important question as to who will bear the additional cost of generation using Oil Instead of LNG

Based on the experience at the West Coast 300 MW power plant which was touted as a means of getting cheap power using Heavy Fuel Oil instead of diesel and which has proved to be as expensive due to the specification of the HFO which costs as much as diesel . Are we to expect the same situation to prevail with the proposed LNG power plant and for how long. What is the additional cost of such operation over and above the Rs 15.97 per unit by the tenderer preferred by the Ministry and over th4 Rs 14.78 offered b6y the lowest tender recommended by the Technical Evaluation Committee? This change alone would cost the country Rs 90 billion every year.

And who will bear such additional cost?. It can be guaranteed that this will be passed on to the general public whether reflected in the monthly electricity bill or not. Under such conditions where does these costs are factored in to the least cost generation options? . Are we so obtuse as not to recognize such obvious pitfalls committing the country to billions of rupees of expenditure? The article by Eng. Tudor Wijenayake in the Financial Times on provided these implications in detail ( and

All these issues unfortunately highlights the lackadaisical way these important tenders have been handled from specification stage itself , which leaves room for contesting parties to seek legal redress. It is the people of Sri Lanka who has the bear the cost of all these lapses by the officials who get away scot free.

It is quite clear that on the basis of the present imbroglio related to the acceptance of an unsolicited proposal for setting up an Floating Gas Regasification Unit by a Korean contractor to supply gas for 20 years on a take or pay basis , LNG will not be available in the foreseeable future to operate the proposed LNG power plant at Kerawalapitiya. It is greatly surprising that these serious problems are not discussed even by the engineering fraternity and those entrusted with the task of managing the economy considering the very large commitment which will be imposed on the public. We at the IESL are duty bound by our stated objectives in the Corporate Plan to discuss at length the manifold issues and educate the public who are totally unware of what is in store for them.

It must be appreciated that there is a proven Natural Gas deposits in the Mannar basin and possibly at other locations too. Since such sources are primarily indigenous resources and decidedly more environmentally benign than any other fossil fuel, it is important for Sri Lanka to develop its own strategies and plans to exploit this resource for the maximum benefit of the country. However, at least in this instance such strategies should be based on the use of local expertise and not totally dependent on imported expertise. Is such is not available at present urgent plans must be put in place to acquire same as fast as possible. This is one more instance that Sri Lanka recognizes that the very process of development of energy resources is by itself an important and valuable economic activity which will greatly enhance the growth of the economy. To realize this value such development must be a indigenous activity with a long term vision. The IESL has an important role to play in making the authorities aware of this urgently needed paradigm change.

Using the present problem of supply in the short term and developing short sighted and as seen from the information available, programs using foreign inputs both technical and financial on dubious terms is totally unacceptable. Decidedly there is much political interference and machinations in this sector, which if allowed to proceed will not only cause much economic damage , but will ensure that the development of the Mannar Gas deposits will be completely blocked as we would have given away our rights to use any gas resource other than through the selected contractor for 20 years. It is our duty as engineers to prevent this happening at any cost.

As discussed later, there are enough indigenous energy resources available to ensure adequate uninterrupted electricity supplies even allowing for the increasing demand over the future , What is required is only the courage of the utility and its engineers to put down the " Hana Miti" ideas and use their undoubted knowledge and intelligence to develop strategies to embrace the present day well proven modern technologies for the conversion of such indigenous resources for the benefit of the nation. The world at large is definitely moving away from fossil fuels even in some counties when such resources are available in their own countries The details of such trends are available in many web sites freely accessible . We have the unfortunate situation where respected energy experts chose to cite the few examples of new coal plants being installed in a few countries with their own coal deposits only, ignoring the fact even in USA with large internal deposits and heavy state support , many dozens of coal plants are being shut down. Same situation exists in Australia. Sri Lanka with no coal deposits has no earthly reason to even suggest any more coal power plants on economic grounds alone let alone the fact we will be importing large amounts of pollutants with the coal which will continue to accumulate in the Sri Lankan eco system for centuries to come.

The road blocks erected by the State Monopoly Utility must be removed if such progressive strategies are to emerge. In the short term and to create a conducive environment to ensure the long term energy security.

In this background it is also necessary to consider what has been achieved in the indigenous energy sector in spite of the decidedly noncooperation of the utility and the Ministry in charge.

The contribution made by NCRE Projects up to 2016 is given below



Energy Gen MWh per year

F E Saved $

No of Projects


Plant Factor %

Small Hydro












Agro Waste






Municipal Waste




Solar Parks






Solar Roof Top PV












Total Foreign Exchange Saving US $ Annually


While this remains a small percentage at present, it is also necessary to recognize that all RE projects have been blocked since 2016 by the CEB citing problems with the Electricity Act. Neither the CEB nor the MOPE took any meaningful acts to overcome this simple roadblock. Accordingly the following projects which are in various stages of approval process have been stalled. This matter still remains unresolved which new attempts are being made to introduce the coal option rejected the world over. If this issue was resolved early no doubt there would have been many more projects developed by the private sector obviating the need for any power cuts.


Energy Permits and Provisional Approval Issued

Energy Gen MWh per year

No of Projects


Plant Factor %

Small Hydro










Agro Waste





Municipal Waste





Solar Parks**





Solar Roof Top PV*










Estd. Total Foreign Exchange Saving US$ Annually



In conclusion the reasons for the present energy crisis can be identified in summary as

1. The fixation of the CEB on imported fossil fuel and large scale generation as the only option

2. Inability to accept the Govt Decision via the Supreme Court not to proceed with the Sampur coal plant and not developing alternative options to fill the gap created

3. Lack of professionalism in preparation of specifications and tender documents which opens the way for both litigation by parties and large scale corruption

4. Not developing the indigenous Renewable Energy Options by themselves and blocking of the development of such projects by the Private Sector

5. Not recognizing the value of DSM and not pursuing this as an aggressive means of reducing the demand.

6. Not recognizing the vast advances being made in technologies and continuing to pursue outdated concepts and technologies.

Based on the above observations in Part I and Part II of this series, it is proposed to address the way out in the next article

Part III - Possible way out of present crisis and a vision and strategy for an energy secure Sri Lanka

Eng Parakrama Jayasinghe

Email: Mob No ; 0777269970


 The Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka, 120/15 Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 00700