"Coal Power – Myth and Truth – The Reality"


I was quite amused to read the letter from Eng. S Weerasekera under the title "Coal Power- Myth and Truth" published in the Island of 21st April 2018. He has picked the correct heading for his letter, but unfortunately what is claimed as the "truth" is in reality the myth. The myth of cheap power from coal has been well and truly debunked all over the world. It is only in Sri Lanka still there are people, including engineers who should know better, wearing the blinkers and refusing to accept the reality. Eng. Weerasekera is well advised to read the article by Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri in the same edition of the Island ( Page 7) to learn the truth of the true cost of coal power even in Sri Lanka.

Reference to the PUCSL web page would provide adequate data on the fallacy of the arguments by the CEB Engineers and their continued efforts to hoodwink the general public and the politicians, that coal is the least cost option for Sri Lanka. In addition, Dr Ratnasiri’s current article itself and the links to his previous articles provide enough evidence of this Myth to anyone willing to take off the blinkers.

I would like to point out once more, the myth in Eng Weerasekera’s attempt to justify championing coal power by reference to our neighbours. I wonder if he realizes that all the countries referred to by him have large deposits of coal on their own. Moreover countries such as India and China are taking huge strides to develop renewable energy resources, and thus get rid of coal power as early as possible. While there is much hope of finding viable gas deposits in the Mannar basin, fortunately no one has made any claims of finding hidden deposits of coal somewhere in Sri Lanka. Considering the precarious foreign exchange situation and the continued dependence on oil for all our transport needs, need one say any more? We will continue to import the pollution along with the coal using scarce foreign exchange for decades to come. The one measly coal power plant that Eng Weerasekera refers to is creating havoc not only to the people around the plant, but now to the sea life as well. Is Sri Lanka stupid enough to repeat this costly mistake, whatever the CEB engineers and their Gurus are saying.?

Leaving such environmental and social and economic disasters aside, whatever the CEB engineers may say to the contrary, using their own peculiar style of costing , it is reported that even in the USA, with their huge coal deposits, the cost of power from coal is more expensive than wind and solar with battery storage to make them firm sources of power. (https://reneweconomy.com.au/plunging-costs-make-solar-wind-and-battery-storage-cheaper-than-coal-83151/ ) When will our engineers wake up and realize that they are being led up the garden path along with the country in general, by a few who obviously have their private agendas and reasons to push for more coal power plants , when the whole world is shunning them?.

In the meanwhile the CEB has effectively blocked the development of all renewable energy projects over the last 18 months and the Ministry of Power and "Renewable " Energy is in deep slumber, while the country is opting for more and more oil-based emergency power at enormous cost.

The CEB engineers continue to propagate the " Myth" that decision to cancel the Sampur coal power plant is to be blamed for what they predict as a power crisis in 2019. No coal power plant, which will take years to build, even if the people of Sri Lanka, now well aware of the environmental disaster in Norochcholai would allow any more to be built, will be the answer.

The "truth" is that the CEB in their misguided notion that coal is the only path to low cost power in Sri Lanka, has failed in their duty as the state monopoly electricity utility, to develop alternate indigenous renewable resources and in fact are creating barriers for the private sector is doing so. The cheapest and the fastest source of energy "Nega Watts’ or reduction of demand by energy conservation and energy efficiency improvements remain untapped . It is still not too late to tap this "resource" and also actively promote the development of the immense indigenous renewable energy resources of Solar, Wind, Bio Mass and remaining Mini Hydro, to avert an impending power crisis. Coal power is definitely not the answer.

Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

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The very interesting short letter by Eng. S. Weerasekera, captioned above, speaks eloquently of the inability of the Public Utilities Commission Sri Lanka [PUCSL] to understand the Least Cost, Long Term Generation Plan, which has been prepared by knowledgeable CEB engineers together with experts and consultants; taking into consideration all factors – its own institution to run at a profit, not burdening the government and the customer, socio-economic development of the country and whatever international requirements – environment, etc.

Can there be any other body more competent than the CEB to dictate terms. I have been always against the setting up the PUCSL, and advocated going back to retention of the Chief Electrical Engineer division in the Ministry for Power and Energy, as provided in the then Electricity Act, with wider powers. The result is now known causing disagreement and thereby halting development.

The most interesting and important fact he points out is that other major countries, who are perhaps signatories to the Paris Accord, have in their power generation included Coal as a source. If one adds up the total number of coal power plants given by Eng. S.Weerasekera it works to 1757 plants. If each plant generates 100 Megawatts, the total would be in the region of 175700 Mw. Now consider CEB’s proposal, a mere 300 Mw plant, a needle in a hay stack. Has the PUCSL considered the environmental damage caused by a 100 Mw coal plant as against a 100 Mw. Diesel plant to justify rejection of Coal?

The other damning exposure by the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union is that authorities, inclusive of its own staff, are being influenced by private suppliers to sabotage the inclusion of Coal Power in the system, for reasons better not elaborate but understood.

As stated in all my earlier letters, there is provision in our submission to the Paris Accord to deviate as and when necessity arises. Hence inclusion of a coal plant does not in any way go against our commitment to the Paris Accord. It should be understood by all - the Government, PUCSL, CEB – that the answer to the impending power shortage is a national calamity, although already late, to approve the Least Cost Long Term Generation Plan of the CEB, is the wisest move.

To conclude, let the Yahapalana government be reminded that one of the reasons for the defeat of the UNP government in 2005 was due to disallowing or cancelling the construction of the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant on baseless grounds, which resulted in a six-hour power cut. Will history repeat itself?


Rtd. Assistant Secretary,

Ministry for Power and Energy

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