People vs “power mafia”
The Lanka Viduli Podu Sevaka Sangamaya (LVPSS), or Ceylon Electricity Public Services Union, together with the Movement for Consumer Rights today threatened to mobilise consumers against what it called the corruption-riddled “power mafia” responsible for the ongoing power crisis.
Speaking at a joint-press conference held in Colombo this morning, the collective lambasted an unnamed cabal of “opportunistic” Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Power and Energy Ministry officials, “corrupt” politicians and “duplicitous” businessmen who they said together formed the elusive ‘power mafia’.
“These businessmen won’t allow even a small number of megawatts to be added to the grid, so they can keep on selling power. The politicians are giving them protection, together with the officials,” LVPSS President Malaka Wickramasinghe said.
The Government’s decision to end power cuts from today onwards, said Wickramasinghe, was no miracle-work but merely a case of convenient timing, as factories and businesses islandwide closing for Avurudu vacation invariably means a significant drop in power demand.
“With the factory closures, there will be a drop in demand of about 800MW. So the next two weeks can be run smoothly anyway, with no hassle; and there will be no need to purchase power or introduce some new generation scheme,” he said, adding that the arrival of monsoon rains next month will also contribute.
The goodwill of the masses exploited
Movement for Consumer Rights Convenor Kelum Amarasinghe accused the powers that be of exploiting the masses’ goodwill.
“Consumers are tightening their belts and are prepared to make sacrifices, because they think the reservoirs are dry and that’s why the power keeps going out. They go out of their way to save electricity. Those in charge, meanwhile, are trying to rob our tax rupees,” he said.
Amarasinghe said that though Minister Ravi Karunanayake had assured the public that power would be purchased at Rs. 25 a unit, consumers were in the dark about the tender procedure followed.
“We heard that it’s to be purchased at Rs. 35 a unit. Some say it’s Rs. 33 a unit. The public has no idea,” said Amarasinghe, adding that in 2016, the Cabinet approved a decision to purchase 100MW of power, 200MW and 300MW in 2017 and 2018 respectively, with a decision now made to purchase 600MW this year.
If the Government had acted responsibly over the past four years, he went on to say, it could’ve devised a mechanism to add 1480MW of power from solar, 155MW from mini hydro plants, 270MW from wind, 300MW from natural gases, 200MW from diesel and 182MW from large hydro power plants to the national grid.
“We have representatives islandwide. As consumers and members of the public, we know how to take to the streets and surround the city. We urge the authorities not to play with people’s money,” he warned
Capacity could have been increased without increasing pay
Both groups pointed to the contested salary increase of CEB engineers at a cost of some Rs. 7 billion, which the speakers said could’ve been used for the acquisition or construction of much needed new power plants. The collective also spoke at length of the missed opportunities in renewable energy, particularly the apparent inertia towards switching to solar power in a country with year-round sunlight.
“We have individual generators that can provide up to 2,000MW – both state and privately owned. If we connected just 25% of these to the grid – that’s 500MW – we could’ve prevented the scheduled shedding due to a shortage of 300MW,” said Wickramasinghe.
“We already have a self-generation circular. If those institutes run their own generators for themselves when we can’t supply them power, we can pay them for that. Such mechanisms were already in place,” he added.
Wickramasinghe also expressed his suspicions that the crisis might be an intentional and politically motivated one orchestrated to embarrass the Government.
“We urge the President to investigate the power mafia with the same vigour as that reserved for the drug mafia,” he said.
No more shedding likely
CEB Spokesman Sulakshana Jayawardane speaking to RepublicNext, meanwhile, said that further shedding will be unlikely, post-Avurudu, assuming there are no disruptions at Norochcholai.
“Yesterday we added 60MW from the barge mounted power station. 71MW was added from Asia Power and Ace Power. An agreement has been entered into to purchase 100MW – 66 of which has already been finalised,” said Jayawardana.
Given the 300MW deficit, the actual addition of 131MW along with 50MW in self-generation as well as ongoing demand-side management (DSM), the CEB should be able to continue providing uninterrupted power, he said.
“Right now, the capacity and the demand are at a near equal level now. We’re fairly confident that there is no need for further power cuts,” he added.
Read our long-form explainer on the power crisis here.