Sampur Power Plant: Beware of Indian rope tricks



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The Chinese built coal power plant in Chilaw.


The article by Ifham Nizam titled, Engineers: Sampur Project a sell-out which in The Island of July 7, reminds me of one of my articles published in your newspaper October 5, 2013 also in reference to an article by Ifham Nizam titled, India to sign five agreements on Sampur Plant. Having been a founder member of the CEB Engineers’ Union and its Honorary Secretary over 50 years ago, I am happy that at last the CEB Engineers have come out of their shell and protested about the terms of the contract pertaining to the coal power plant to be installed in Sampur.


Hitherto all public pronouncements regarding the CEB are made by either the Secretary of the Ministry or the Chairman CEB who is a political appointee. The voice of the CEB engineers who form the backbone of the CEB is never heard by the public. Although the present Secretary of the Power Ministry appears to hold more independent views than his predecessors, still at the end of the day he has to follow the government line.


Having learnt a bitter lesson from the Chinese Coal Power plant in Norochcholai below specified standards, the CEB engineers who will be responsible for running the plant after installation must do everything in their power to ensure that the agreement complies with the strictest specifications available. As a former Honorary Secretary of the CEB Engineers’ Union I call upon the present-day engineers to vehemently resist all attempt to foist on them an inferior plant and see to it that the best terms acceptable to the CEB are agreed upon.


I give this warning in good faith as I can vouch for the fact that the cheapest but not the best electrical and mechanical equipment are peddled by China and India. This fact I realised when I was Chairman of the CEB Tender Board for five years. During that period our Tender Board had to reject many tenders from China and India as they were below specifications though their bids were lower than those of other countries. The CEB engineers must check whether plants similar to the one to be installed at Sampur have been in operation elsewhere for several years without defects. This was one of the stipulations that my Tender Board rigidly observed.


I am sure that the former Minister of Power Champika Ranawaka would never have agreed to any terms of contract which were not favourable to the CEB. Probably that was the reason why he was removed and the present Minister who knows next to nothing about electricity was appointed to that post. Let the CEB engineers be warned that under no circumstances must they allow Indian coal to be used in Sampur as it is one of the most impure types of coal anywhere in the world. Indian coal has a gross calorific value of 4,500 kilo calories per kilo compared to Australian coal which has around 6,500 kilo calories per kilo. When the calorific value of coal decreases, the ash content of coal increases; the thermal efficiency will be lower and the Carbon dioxide and Sulphur dioxide emissions and consequently air pollution will be higher. As an engineer who served the CEB for over 35 years, I call upon the CEB engineers to rise to the occasion, play a more active role so that that Sri Lanka will not fall for Indian rope tricks and the Sampur deal will benefit Sri Lanka.


In conclusion I must say that the present Sampur plant was planned by the CEB over 30 years ago under considerably better terms at less than 10% of the present cost, but it had to be shelved owing to protests from our environmentalists who claimed the plant would cause acid rains destroying our tea plantations. Politicians at that time gave in.


The Norochcholai Coal Power plant should have been completed over 10 years ago at less than 50% the present cost, if not for political interference due to protests led by the Bishop of Chilaw, who saw a Church situated 10 km away from the site being adversely affected by the project. We have learnt bitter lessons in the past. Let us not repeat the bad mistakes we have made.


Neil Perera


(Former Vice Chairman and Additional General Manager of CEB)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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