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‘Everybody lives happily till next blackout’ quips energy expert

26 April 2016 11:06 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Both the current and past governments have swept post-blackout reports and recommendations which may have averted successive blackouts under the rug, which has resulted in an ongoing crisis situation, one of the country’s leading power and energy consultants said. “The reports have gone to someone’s WPB.

Everyone knows what WPB is; it’s the waste paper basket,” Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya said at a seminar on the electricity crisis themed ‘Is there light at the end of the tunnel’, held at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce yesterday. None of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) or Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) present at the discussion refuted the claims. Dr. Siyambalapitiya said that the report following the 2009 blackout, which outlined 37 recommendations and was written by him as part of the investigative committee, was never given any serious thought, or was published by the PUCSL.

“Everybody lives happily till the next blackout. The 2015 September blackout report was ignored till after the 2016 blackout, when people looked around, asking ‘where is that 2015 report’,” Dr. Siyambalapitiya added. CEB Chairman Anura Wijayapala, who outlined some challenges for the future, went on to say that he was confident that the state-run power generator will overcome any adversity.

“The PUCSL last week wrote to the CEB and the CEB said that all is well and that everything that can be done has been done. The PUCSL didn’t ask for any timeframe for action and the CEB didn’t give one,” Dr. Siyambalapitiya said. However, it is interesting to note that when the CEB requested additional power requisition this week, the PUCSL shot down the proposal. Dr. Siyambalapitiya noted that in the US, when the last major blackout happened in 2003, there were seminars, research and public criticism for months, all of which is still available to the public today, unlike in Sri Lanka, where no public discussion has taken place, in addition to the shortcomings in report publication. He noted that the current crisis is due to a mix of shortcomings in reliability, accountability and capacity. “Up to a certain measure, it’s all of it. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

The indications are that there is no such light,” he said. He said that there were no reliability indices or modern security analysis published, which are done in real time in other countries, where power generation company officials are fined for unreliable power supply and the proceeds are distributed among the customers.

Dr. Siyambalapitiya said that Sri Lanka cannot keep comparing itself to India anymore either. “In some states in India, they are achieving 24/7 power. Even in India, there’s only a 2 percent power outage. Now we shout and say India’s power outage is this, and we should do 10 times better,” he said. He added that the CEB has not been accountable under the Electricity Act of 2009, not publishing reports on transmission performance standards, distribution performance standards or the grid codes for the past four years, except just once.

He noted that while there is no significant crisis in capacity yet, it will definitely come in 2018, since the commissioning of the Sampur Power Plant has been delayed till 2021. Wijayapala agreed, saying that the power demand is expected to increase by 5 percent each year and only micro projects are expected to come online till 2021. “I told the Prime Minister that the demand is expected to increase by 5 percent. He got a bit angry and said that we should cater to a 10 percent increase or more, because the government will be bringing in a lot of industries,” he said. However, Dr. Siyambalapitiya said that the authorities should create comprehensive, holistic plans to satisfy the 5 percent increase before looking any further. Pix by Pradeep Pathirana

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