Four of Sri Lanka’s power stations broke down last week and over the weekend two of them – the Kelanitissa power station the controversial Norochcholai coal power project – were still out of commission, electrifying speculation that the already high bills may be increased.
When a huge increase in electricity bills was imposed from June last year, the Ceylon Electricity Board promised that the huge fuel-adjustment surcharge would be reduced or removed when more electricity was obtained from the coal power and hydro-power stations, where the rate is lower than thermal power generation. But like most of the promises given by the Government, this promise also appears to be hollow with officials short-circuiting the issue by giving various reasons or excuses. According to officials, the huge debt that the CEB owed to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation for fuel supplies has been settled. But the CEB does not appear to be too concerned about its debts, its duty and responsibility towards the people on whose money the institution is run. While the CEB apparently is quick to put the switch on in dealing blackouts to the people, politicians are being given lighter burdens where electricity is concerned. According to media reports, the MPs who live at the housing scheme in Madiwela pay only Rs. 1000/= a month as a refundable deposit while some of them have not paid even their reduced electricity bills. As for the large number of Ministers, their electricity bills often running into six figures are largely paid from public funds.
CEB officials say hydro-electric power generation, which is the lowest in terms of cost, has dropped from more than 50% in 2012 to less than 30% last year. They claim the water levels in the hydro-power reservoirs are going down, and if there is no heavy rain in the coming weeks and months the CEB may have to switch to more thermal power generation which is far more expensive. If that too is not enough, the CEB may have to buy power from independent power producers whose charges are even more expensive than the CEB’s thermal power generation. All this means millions of people will have to pay more and more for electricity, and some middle class or lower middle class families may have to turn to kerosene lamps or even candle light. We are told that in a crisis we need to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. But this is a case of a candle in the wind where people will curse the CEB and the Government.
With elections to the Western and Southern Provincial Councils likely to be held on March 29, electricity bills may not be increased till that day. In any case power and energy are a vital sector in reaching technological development and industrialisation. Therefore the Government will have to address issues in the power and energy sector immediately if it is to reach the projected development goals.
If local industries are to be competitive there needs to be cheap electricity that powers the industrial sector in the country. The country needs to have a comprehensive plan to meet the rapid increase in energy demands that could be seen with the present growth in the economy and provide that electricity at a cheaper unit cost. The CEB and the Power and Energy Ministry will have to put their act together fast.
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