The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had made 16 requests to Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) between 2016 and 2020, seeking permission for power purchases, Chairman of the PUCSL Janaka Ratnayake said yesterday, January 21.
Mr. Ratnayake said that PUCSL had rejected those requests outright on 13 occasions and turned down two requests after discussions. PUCSL had approved the purchase of emergency power only once.
“The funny thing is that our rejections did not lead to power cuts although those requests were made to avoid potential power cuts. We saved Rs. 571 billion by rejecting these requests. If the PUCSL had not existed, power purchases would have been made and the people would have been compelled to bear the burden. Therefore, it’s important to have regulators like the PUCSL. In other sectors we see ad hoc purchases and price hikes,” he said.
The PUCSL chairman said that they had warned about possible power cuts circa 2020 because the long-term generation plans were not implemented. The PUCSL, the Cabinet and the CEB Board of Directors had approved several power plants over the years.
“For several reasons, none of these plants have been built. Thus, we have been having issues for a long time. Our power issues are man-made. PUCSL has called for building power plants, the Cabinet and CEB board approval have also been given but power plants are not built. But over the years there have been a lot of requests for purchasing emergency power,” he also said.
Mr. Ratnayake noted that the CEB had not made a request to buy emergency power now. This is because the issue right now is financial and not related to production.
“I think all of us remember the blackout on December 03, 2021. Was that accidental or was it sabotage? This is what we are looking into. When the blackout took place, two plants at Norochcholai broke down. We lost about 570 megawatts of power and it took almost a week to get the plants back online. Again on December 23 to 24, 2021, CEB, without any warning and without our approval initiated power cuts across the country. We wrote to CEB immediately and asked why you are shedding power? They didn’t reply. They did the same thing again on January 06, 2022. This time we asked them more aggressively,” the PUCSL chairman said.
The CEB had responded to the PUCSL a few days later and claimed that they were having issues with power generation, Ratnayake said. The CEB said some plants were not operating due to various reasons and wanted the PUCSL to approve power cuts.
“Now, the CEB is receiving fuel from the CPC and by the end of January the third power plant at Norochcholai will be back online. This will add 270 megawatts to the grid. So, I think we can stop the power cuts,” he said.
The Chairman of the PUCSL added that the CEB had not provided adequate information about the blackouts in December 2021 and soon the PUCSL will hold a public hearing on this. “We will take evidence and take steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future,” he said.