CEB Engineers warn of over 10-hour power cuts mid-next year

Buddhika Samaraweera

Out of the 38 ships carrying 60,000 metric tonnes (MT) of coal expected to reach Sri Lanka by April 2023, 10 ships should have reached the country by now, but only four ships have arrived thus far, said the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers’ Union (CEBEU), warning of the possibility daily power cuts longer than 10-hours from July to October of next year (2023) due to the non-procurement of coal on time.

Speaking to The Morning, CEBEU Co-Secretary Isuru Kasthurirathne said that due to the location of the jetty of the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant, it is not possible for ships carrying coal to dock at this point. Therefore, he said, the coal from the ships anchored at deep sea is brought to land by barges belonging to the CEB.

However, he said that it is not possible to do so after April because the sea becomes rough, adding that there is only six months from October to April of the following year to unload the ships and to place the coal needed for a year in stores.

“Out of the 38 ships of coal expected to arrive in the country by April 2023, 10 ships should have arrived by now, but only four ships have arrived. The fifth ship has not even left the relevant port. With the current foreign exchange crisis in the country, this delay will increase. If the sea becomes rough before April of next year, the situation will become more serious. That is why we need to bring all the coal ships before April and unload them and store them. However, the Government is talking about emergency power purchases, but there is no talk of bringing the ships in on time,” said Kasthurirathne.

Noting that 2023 is predicted to be a “dry year” without much rainfall, he said that power cuts will anyway have to be carried out next year, but that the duration of power cuts will become longer due to the non-procurement of coal on time. If it will not be possible to bring the remaining stocks of coal in by April, he said, the duration of power cuts will be 10 hours or more.

He said that the national grid will lose a capacity of 300 megawatts from one power plant if it is not possible to procure coal, and said that it will definitely lead to more than 10 hours of power cuts per day.

“The coal stock will run out by April, May, or June of next year. Then, it will not be possible to bring coal until November of next year due to rough seas. In that situation, the country will have no coal in the months from July to November of next year, which means that there will definitely be longer power cuts.

“In such a situation, one may say that emergency power purchases can be done, but it is doubtful whether it will be possible to make emergency power purchases in this fuel crisis. Even if there is a possibility, it is not possible in the current economic situation to buy electricity at a price of around Rs. 120 per unit. That is why we say that the Government should intervene to bring in these coal ships by April,‘ he said.

Speaking further, Kasthurirathne said that the Government and the Ministry of Power and Energy should negotiate with the relevant suppliers and conduct a diplomatic intervention to bring in the remaining 34 coal ships. He said that the Government has a great responsibility to come to some agreements with the relevant suppliers, arrange the necessary funds for the relevant payments and bring the ships in, but it does not seem that the Government and Power and Energy Ministry are doing enough intervention for that.

“The Government and the Power and Energy Ministry should first understand this risk and solve it. Talking about emergency power purchases without doing so is suppressing the real problem. Sri Lanka had the bargaining power when buying coal or any other commodity in the past.

“However, with the prevailing economic crisis, suppliers have imposed strict conditions. For instance, 30% of the payments need to be made before the ship leaves. The remaining 70% needs to be made before the ship is unloaded. At this time, the arrival of the ships is delayed due to the inability to procure that money,” he added.

As the imports of diesel have been affected by the prevailing economic crisis, Sri Lanka has been experiencing daily scheduled power cuts since February, 2022, and at one point, the power cuts spanned 13 hours, which have now come down to around two hours a day. Against this backdrop, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera on 25 November said that the Government will take all possible measures to ensure an uninterrupted power supply from January 2023 onward.




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