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Sequel to the power crisis on the cards?

With speculation rife over yet another spate of power cuts post Avurudu holidays, interested parties are once again trading allegations, adding to the confusion. The Lanka Viduli Podu Sevaka Sangamaya (LVPSS), or Ceylon Electricity Public Services Union, today accused the influential Engineers Union of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) of attempting to engineer a crisis where there was none – an allegation vehemently denied by the latter.

LSSP President Malaka Wickramasinghe told RepublicNext that, despite the temporary power surplus over the New Year holidays coming to an end with the re-opening of factories and businesses on Monday, 22 April, it is possible to meet the resultant shortage without resorting to scheduled power cuts.

“There is no need to go for cuts. Yes, there is a shortage, but there are ways and means in which that shortage can be met,” he said, charging that the powerful engineers are conspiring to create an “artificial crisis” in order to put pressure on the Government to resolve the ongoing CEB engineers’ salary issue in their favour.

The Engineers Union, however, said that power cuts will not be required if water is released from the Randenigala reservoir, which is currently at 88% capacity, for agriculture purposes as expected

“If water is released from Randenigala for the Yala season from April to May, the power stations at Randenigala, Rantambe and Victoria can be run, generating about 150MW of power,” CEB Engineers Union President Saumya Kumarawadu told RepublicNext

Though water release is uncertain at this point, the 150MW generated thus, together with the 131MW of actual addition to the grid (70MW from Asia Power and Ace Power, plus 60MW from the barge-mounted power station) as well as 50 to 60MW from the Cabinet approved emergency purchase of 100MW along with 50MW in self-generation and some demand-side management should be enough to meet the pre-Avurudu 300MW deficit.

At the time of writing, an official from the Mahaweli Authority was unavailable for comment on the water release of Randenigala, a deciding factor in the country’s power situation in the coming days.

According to Wickramasinghe, due to the gradual return of rains and the monsoon forecast for next month, in addition to the hurriedly purchased emergency power, a crisis situation should, in theory, not arise until at least August. However, he said, the engineers would create such a situation regardless.

Going back to a now-familiar refrain, he further said mechanisms are already in place for the CEB to utilise at least 25% of the 2,000MW worth of private and public-sector owned individual power generators in the country, should a shortage arise.

“The Board can pay them to run their own generators while we cut power to them and save 500MW of power and give that to the general public. Or those generators can be synchronised with ours, so that the surplus of each is shared with the other. We already have a self-generation circular for this purpose,” he said.

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Kumarawadu, however, pointed out that much of those generators were designed for emergency use only, and the owners didn’t have sufficient fuel or fuel storage capacity to keep them running continuously.

Scoffing at this, Wickramasinghe said: “Those private companies and even public enterprises will run if we put money in their account. Won’t they run their generators if we cut power to them? If we cut power and also pay them, why won’t they run?”

The engineers, he said, are not interested in implementing this or in adding new renewable plants to the grid as per the Low Cost Long Term Expansion Plan. They would opt for scheduled power cuts instead as it would be in their interest to do so, he added

The engineers’ insistence on relying on thermal power when, for example, an LNG power plant can be constructed in two to three years, with minimal environmental impact, is an indication of their unwillingness to resolve the crisis in a sustainable manner, he said.

“The CEB has the technology to prevent another crisis. The Government should either intervene and arrest the corrupt officials standing in the way, or the few good engineers left can step forward and resolve it themselves.”

Kumarawadu, however, said if the Government had heeded the engineers’ calls to purchase power from select independent power provides, the present crisis could’ve been avoided.

“We’ve been saying since January to purchase those 70MW from Asia Power and Ace Matara. The 100MW emergency tender was opened but was not bought, and it was only offered after the crisis,” he said.

The regulator, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), meanwhile, said they were unaware of any moves to cut power in the coming days.

“We have not yet been presented generation data or any other relevant information. So we cannot make an official comment at present,” PUCSL Corporate Communications Director Jayanath Herath said.

Read our long-form explainer on the power crisis here.

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