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Thursday September 29th, 2022

Go solar, Sri Lanka’s energy minister tells ‘power users’ in religious category

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Power & Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara has proposed that some 12,000 temples and religious centres that pay higher tariffs than others convert to solar power and manage their monthly power consumption.

Wijesekara told parliament on Tuesday September 20 that, out of 48,682 connections registered at the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) under the ‘religious places’ category, over 36,000 have to pay under 3,990 rupees a month even after a recent tariff hike that has run into some controversy with members of the Buddhist clergy.

In August, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the regulator, green-lit an electricity tariff hike by an average of 75 percent, after nine years. Tariffs for the religious category were increased by 555 percent, drawing some ire from Sri Lanka’s politically powerful Buddhist clergy.


Explainer: Sri Lanka’s electricity tariff hike and how it works

Wijesekara, who has been at the receiving end of the criticism, said the loss-making CEB sold electricity to places of worship at a subsidy that was borne by consumers across other categories including households and industry. A leading Buddhist monk who was active in Sri Lanka’s Aragalaya (Struggle) anti-government protests has launched a campaign against the price revision, threatening not to pay.


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Explaining the tariff scheme in parliament, the minister said religious institutes that consumed up to 180 units of electricity, the maximum charge was 9.40 rupees; up to 30 units, it was just 1.90 rupees.

Some temples and places of worship have more than one account registered with the CEB, he said.

Even after the hike, said Wijesekara, 15,195 connections (out of the 48,682) that use up to 30 units will only have to pay a maximum of 330 rupees a month, while 11,151 connections will pay a maximum of 1,260 rupees, an increase of roughly 1,000 from the 285 rupees they used to pay.

Up to 3,852 religious places will pay a maximum of 1,860 rupees, compared to the 607 rupees they paid before the tariff revision.

Temples and places of worship that use 121 to 180 units – 5,897 connections in total – will now have to pay a maximum of 3,990 rupees, compared to the 1,057 rupees they paid prior to the hike.

“Out of the 48,000 places, 36,000 have to pay a maximum of 3,990 rupees after the revision. But I agree there are 12,000 places for whom the bill has increased by a much larger amount. It is for them that we propose [a switch to solar],” said Wijesekara.

“If someone’s bill is 50,000 rupees – meaning, they always paid 50,000 anyway. If they can buy a solar panel on installments and pay it up by four or five  years, so even if there is a revision in the next years, it won’t happen,” he said.

The government is also looking to convert schools and government hospitals to solar as well.


Sri Lanka to convert govt schools, hospitals to solar power: minister

Wijesekara said there has been no revision of tariffs since 2014.

“The CEB has faced unbearable losses. It owes 80 billion rupees to the [state-run] Ceylon Petroleum Corporation alone, and 45 billion to renewable energy suppliers like mini hydro, rooftop solar providers over the last 10 months.

“That’s why the CEB requested the PUCSL to increase this, because the CEB has no power to do that. That’s why the PUCSL met for two months ,studied it, and increased up to about 60% of the increase requested.”

Anyone whose bill exceeds 50,000 a month can pay for a rooftop solar solution in installments over a four-to-five-year period, said the minister, noting however that Sri Lanka does not possess the foreign exchange needed to import panels.

One option is to purchase them from India or China under a credit agreement, he said.

State Minister of Power & Energy Indika Anuruddha Herath has been tasked with looking into the matter, said Wijesekara, following a directive from the president and the prime minister. The CEB, the Lanka Electricity Company (LEC) and the Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA) are expected to assist in the project.

The minister also asked that temples, religious places and other connection holders must try to manage their monthly use as Sri Lanka undergoes an energy crisis brought about by the worst currency crisis in the history of the country’s central bank.

“There are no special power stations that generate electricity at a low cost for religious places. We all have to rely on the same stations,” he said. (Colombo/Sep20/2022)

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