AGRICULTURE, ENERGY AND YAHAPALANA
Posted on November 1st, 2017

KAMALIKA PIERIS

One of the prime goals of this government is to strengthen the agricultural sector, said Yahapalana. There isn’t a single project of this government which would help agriculture, replied critics. The first agricultural sector to get hit by Yahapalana was paddy farming .Farmers found around February 2016 that they could not sell their paddy. Farmers in the Ampara district, from where the bulk of the paddy production comes, confirmed that they were unable to sell their paddy.

It is now a few months since harvesting began and farmers find the government is not ready to buy their paddy,  reported the media in March 2016. All Island Farmers Federation   commented on the very slow start to government paddy purchases. Stocks from the last season were still in the stores and till these were cleared government paddy stores were unable to take in new paddy purchases. Chairman, Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) confirmed that previous harvests still remained in the stores.  P.P. Jayasena a farmer from Gal Oya observed that there are 112 stores in the Ampara district. None of these have been emptied although the farmers have begun harvesting. ‘The government should have thought of this before the paddy ripened in the fields. Never before in history has such a thing happened’, he said.

Farmers held protests at Dehiattakandiya and Anuradhapura town and were planning on taking to the streets at Rajangana, Wilgamuwa, Hettipola, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa. ‘It is this government that has dragged the farmer out onto the streets in protest’ said the media. The government had eventually bought just   1.8 million kilos of paddy, which meant they had bought from only 900 farmers. ‘But nobody has yet received the money although the Minister claims they have been paid’, complained the farmers.

The sangha were also roused to action. Venerable Senapathiye Ananda of Sri Pushparamaya, Uhana, Kumaragama said because of the government’s harsh policies the farmer is in trouble. When something unjust is done to them we can’t remain with our hands folded. As the Maha Sangha, we should rise to the occasion.”

Farmers and bhikkus representing 12 districts visited the Paddy Marketing Board in August 2016, having given prior notice.  The Chairman was not available,   but the General Manager or some other high official was. This officer told them, with his head down and refusing to look at the deputation, that he did not know the provisions of the PMB Act.  He was not aware of the clause about the guaranteed price, either. This episode was featured in the television news and we all saw it.

Since the Paddy Marketing Board would not buy their paddy, the farmers had no alternative but to sell to the private traders who bought stocks at Rs 20 a kilo in March 2016 and at Rs 27 in August 2016, while the guaranteed price was Rs 38.  To make space for the new harvest the stored paddy was sold to millers by the PMB   at Rs. 32.50 a kilo and leading rice mill owners then bought paddy for Rs. 14-15 a kilo from farmers.

The rice mills were also affected. About 150 rice mills in the Polonnaruwa District had been shut down during the last several months and another 100 in the district were on the verge of closure, since there was a shortage of paddy for milling, reported the media in April 2017.   Paddy Marketing Board had not issued paddy stocks to rice mill owners for processing, though it had 200,000 metric tons of paddy in its warehouses.  Instead Paddy Marketing Board was selling the paddy to middlemen who sold to millers. Farmers wanted it released directly to the millers. All Island Farmers Federation complained at a press conference in Dambulla in December 2016, that there were massive irregularities in the distribution of PMB stocks.

Rice production has hit a 10-year low, said officials in October 2017. Three consecutive seasons have failed Yala (2016), Maha (2016/2017) and Yala (2017). The cultivation of rice has also suffered from other factors including drought and floods. Nearly 150,000 hectares were devastated by floods and torrential rains during the 2016 Yala season, while during the 2016/2017 Maha only half of the paddy lands were cultivated because the rainfall was not sufficient.

In the last Maha season, 137,950.42 hectares of paddy lands were not cultivated and the crop failed in another 179,796 hectares. Although the target was to cultivate 400,020 hectares of paddy land, in the last Yala season only around 263,307 hectares were grown. However, out of that, crop damage was reported in a significant land area. In the last Yala season, there was reasonable cultivation in Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa, while in Anuradhapura and Ampara, the two major paddy cultivating districts, only 28% and 67% were cultivated respectively, due to the shortage of water. The present Yala harvest will not be enough for the next few months and the harvest from the next Maha will only come to the market in February 2018, said officials in October 2017.

All Island Farmers Federation however charged that incompetent agricultural policies had resulted in the decline in rice production. The policies of the government had discouraged local farmers. The rice mafia was mainly controlled by politicians, they said. The Federation also feared a severe a shortage of seed paddy, which will adversely affect the next Maha season.

Yahapalana government announced in December 2016, that there will soon be a shortage of rice. All Island Farmers Federation disagreed. They said that there were sufficient rice stocks. The rice was held by private millers.  An artificial shortage had been created.  The government was promoting the rice mafia of big time mill owners, who had created an artificial shortage of rice to increase the selling price of rice while planning to buy from farmers as a very low price. Many paddy mill owners have not yet sent their rice to the market.

Officials in the main paddy production areas of the Eastern, North-Central and Northern provinces, confirmed that despite the adverse weather conditions, paddy stocks were available in the Paddy Marketing Board stores and with private traders. While the Government claims there is a shortage of rice, this picture tells a different story, said the media in March 2017, showing large stocks of paddy stored at a private warehouse in Polonnaruwa.

The government and private traders are holding on to millions of kilos of paddy and rice in their stores, the media said in April 2017. Private paddy millers confirmed that they were in possession of stocks and were also buying fresh stocks since the harvest had started in some paddy cultivation areas. When millers created an artificial rice shortage, the government should have milled the paddy using its own mills at Hasalaka, Galgamuwa or Embilipitiya, said farmers.

The country has sufficient rice till the beginning of next year, there is no need to import, All Island Farmers Federation said again in July 2017.  The drought affected Maha but not Yala.  Yala was good. Thousands of acres of paddy in Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Ampara and Kilinochchi are ready for harvest. More than 18,000 acres in Kaudulla, Polonnaruwa   and more than 150 acres in Ampara are ready for harvesting.

Farmers expressed serious concern over moves to import rice as the purchase price of local paddy would be affected.   The farmers will be force to sell at low price if government imports rice, they said. The rice now sold in the market was bought from farmers at Rs 35-38 and sold at high price by large scale millers who are making huge profits, they added.

However, Yahapalana started to import rice. In March 2017 Sri Lanka received 10,000 metric tonnes of rice from Pakistan and another 5,000 metric tonnes from Indonesia as donations.   The Government approved the import of a further 250,000 metric tonnes of rice. The first imports came from India. India had given the cheapest rate.  In October 2017, the government decided to import a further 200,000 metric tons of rice. The rice will be imported from India, Pakistan, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh, said Yahapalana cheerily. The private sector was also allowed to import rice. Essential Food Commodities Importers and Traders Association (EFCITA) said that they had imported about 400,000 metric tons of rice, from May 2017.

Importers said that less rice is imported now as demand for the imported varieties in the local market is less. Many prefer the local varieties to the imported rice, though imported varieties are cheaper. That is because the rice imported from other countries is inferior to local varieties, replied the Federation. That is why they are cheaper too.

Yahapalana government has subjected Sri Lanka‘s beloved home grown rice to three   unique indignities. There was a spectacular destroying of rice in February 2017. ‘Rice not boiled but set ablaze’ said the headline. Rice has been part of Sri Lanka’s civilization for thousands of years and our plate of rice still carries a degree of sanctity, said the media. Therefore it was shocking, if not sacrilegious, to see how Consumer Protection Authority officials set ablaze more than 2,400 kilos of rice in Polonnaruwa. This came after a court ordered the destruction of this stock of rice because it was not fit for consumption, concluded the media.

The other two indignities are linked. Bags of rice were sent for storage to a newly built international airport and then dispatched, not to a rice mill, but to a distillery. Excess stock from the 2015 paddy harvest was dumped at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in August 2016 due to a lack of adequate storage space and the absence of a plan to distribute paddy to millers. These stocks were stored at MRIA without releasing them to millers, accused critics.

The All-Island Farmers’ Federation (AIFF) said that as much as 4,000 metric tonnes of paddy stored at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, were thereafter sold at cut rate to W M Mendis and Co, a liquor manufacturing firm owned by the influential Arjun Aloysius Group. The paddy was sold to the company at Rs 24 a kilogram. The PMB had bought the stocks for Rs 38 and Rs 42 a kilogram. The loss to the Board is, therefore, between Rs 14 and Rs. 18 a kilogram. PMB said the stocks were too old to be used and needed to be cleared out. We tried to export the stocks, sell it to millers, send it as animal feed but no one bought it,” PMB said. Some of it was sold to the World Food Programme and certain other buyers   after calling tenders.

Local paddy is used to manufacture beer, while imported rice is provided to consumers, commented the President of the United Rice Millers’ Association (URMA). Members of the Association had put in tenders to buy some of these stocks but they were not given any.  There were sufficient millers in Hambantota and other areas willing to purchase the paddy, yet the Food Committee of the Finance Ministry decided it should be sold to the Mendis Company at Rs 24 a kilogram, said URMA.

The sweetheart sale of paddy to Wm Mendis and Co   came at a time when the company was starting construction on a Rs 4 billion grain-based extra neutral alcohol (ENA) distillery in Kalkudah in the Batticaloa district. Approval to set up the distillery was granted to the company by the Ministry of Finance, just 18 weeks after the regime change of 2015,  through its Fiscal Policy Department and Department of Excise. These bodies also approved the Kalkudah distillery. Local and provincial officials are opposed to the project and the construction is now suspended on an order of the Koralaipattu Pradeshiya Sabha, reported the media in April 2017.

The prolonged drought of 2016 and 2017 caused great distress to the farmers. It affected 1.2 million people belonging to about 300,000 families in 16 districts including the main rice-growing districts. People are crying out for water, farmlands are parched, crops are ruined, indebted, farmers are   facing long-term financial ruin, reported the media in March 2017.

‘Some 800,000 families in drought affected districts whose sole livelihood is agriculture, are now reliant on Government  Relief Packs  to survive,  said the media in September 2017. The drought, reportedly the worst in 40 years, has devastated agricultural areas and resulted in near complete collapse of economies in some of the affected districts. Drought affected families are surviving on one meal a day, while indebtedness is on the rise. Over 2 million people, in 20 of the country’s 25 districts, are now affected by drought, according to the September 2017 statistics issued by the Disaster Management Centre.

Yahapalana did not rush to look after the rice farmers. In February 2017, hundreds of paddy farmers in Medirigiriya   had lost their cultivation as authorities failed to provide them with water from the Kaudulla tank for Maha. They took to the streets in Medirigiriya demanding compensation. They sought loans for their survival. This is just one of the many farmer demonstrations that took place in Sri Lanka after Yahapalana came to power.

However, Yahapalana said it was going to give each affected farming family Rs 10,000 monthly payment from March 2017, for a period of three months. Over 500,000 families would be entitled to this financial support. The money would be directly sent to the bank accounts of the farmers, the procedure would be similar to that of distributing fertilizer subsidy.

In October 2017, Yahapalana announced that the largest amount of compensation in the history of the Agricultural and Agrarian Insurance Board had been paid in the last Maha season, to farmers badly affected by the drought. More than Rs 5.2 billion was paid to 523,336 farmers covering more than 352,903 hectares in nine provinces. The largest amount was paid to 113,225 farmers in the Anuradhapura District amounting to more than Rs 1.132 billion, followed by Kurunegala District, where Rs 1.045 billion was paid to 104,594 farmers.

Yahapalana banned chemical fertilizers   and removed the fertilizer subsidy. In 2016, Yahapalana decided to convert the fertilizer subsidy in to an allowance of Rs. 25,000 to farmers who cultivate paddy lands below two hectare for the two seasons. Accordingly, only Rs. 12,500 will be given per season. The allocation for one acre is Rs. 5,000.This financial allowance is given also to farmers who grow vegetables, alternate crops, sweet corn, onions, chillies and soya in the form of a voucher. However, that is given based on the harvest. Every farmer has to show a stipulated amount of harvest in order to be eligible for this allowance.   Farmers faced two problems, increase in price of fertilizer and low price of paddy. In February 2017 farmers demonstrated regarding these two issues at the Department of Agriculture office.

Glyphosate was banned in 2015 by the Yahapalana government against the advice of the Pesticide Technical Advisory Committee. The reason given was that it caused CKDU while there was no evidence that this was so. The Sri Lanka Organization of Agriculture Professionals (SLOAP) also said that there is no scientific base to indicate that glycophospate is the root cause of kidney disease. Glyphosate is the most widely used total weed killer in the world.

The Glyphosate ban has severely affected upland arable farming and the yields for maize, chillie, cowpea, black gram, green gram are less in the last Maha season.     SLOAP said that banning chemical fertilizer has reduced agricultural product already for maize, ulundi, chillies and kurakkan. Manual weed control costs have increased several fold and farmers said they will therefore be compelled to reduce extents under high land crops and vegetable during next Maha season. This will have a serious impact on future crop production and the income of farmers. Sri Lanka was self sufficient in maize some years ago, now Sri Lanka is compelled to import maize again.

Paraquat, a very good weed killer was banned in 2014 because people were committing suicide drinking it.  Paraquat and Glyphosate were banned without providing suitable alternatives.  As a result farmers have to resort to increased tillage practices, excessive use of water and labor to control weeds established during fallow periods. Despite the ban, heavy illicit inflow of Glyphosate is reaching the country and unscrupulous parties are involved in it at highly exorbitant prizes, usually three to four times the usual prize, exploiting the poor farmers.  The farmers are compelled to buy this Glyphosate because of excessive labor costs for weeding.

However, Yahapalana government has taken some steps to help rice farming. The Civil Security Department  announced in March 2017 that it was supporting President  Sirisena’s concept of  a toxin free country, ‘righteous agriculture’ ,  healthy nation by  purchasing traditional varieties of paddy and selling rice to the public at an affordable price after milling them. The CSD has now started to purchase traditional paddy varieties such as kahawanu, marachamadu, kuruluthuda, pachchaperumal, batapola hal, kahamala, and rathdel from farmers at Padavi, Sripura, Weli Oya, Morawewa, Gomarankadawala, and Seruwila in the Puttalam district. The milled rice would be sold in the Colombo district at Rs. 120 per km.

The Association of Retired officers of the Sri Lanka Agricultural Services had, however, put a full page notice for the attention of the President, the Government and the people of Sri Lanka on 30.10.2016 saying that the traditional rice varieties (TRV) have poor yields.  The newly improved varieties have a seven fold increase. Also the TRVs are not fertilizer response and being tall, they bend over. The NIVs are short, erect, highly fertilizer responsive and lodging resistant.

The Prime Minister’s office announced in September 2017, that an on-line Database System for paddy/rice stocks which could be accessed easily by officials and public, would be set up. Every year, the government makes an effort to stabilize the price of paddy/rice. But owing to non-availability of comprehensive information, success is limited, stated the Prime Minister’s office. Establishing a computerized digital MIS system for paddy/rice Sector will strengthen that effort and decision makers, will be able to take informed decisions as to the quantity of paddy and rice available in the country and the actual need to supplement by way of imports.

This data base will include data on paddy lands, the actual extent cultivated, and the paddy production in any given season. Sri Lanka Customs will upload monthly data on the import and export of rice.  State and private banks will provide information on pledged loans taken by millers in each season. These pledged loan details could be used to do verifications on the existing stocks, those with millers and those with traders. The database is expected to be uploaded at the district level preferably just after the harvesting of each season. The data base will start with the next Maha season harvest of 2017/18.

Dissatisfaction with Yahapalana is not confined to rice farmers. Pepper farmers took to the street to object to the importation of pepper. Soon after the current government came into power in 2015, they started to import a lot of pepper into the country, pepper farmers complained. The government has imported 500 tons of pepper from Vietnam. This was done on the pretext of using them for a distillery, but the stocks are now being released to the local market. This has had an adverse impact on the local pepper market. A kilo of pepper which used to fetch Rs 1,500 now can only be sold at a price less than Rs 500. The pepper we harvest once a year, brought in enough money to allow us to be not dependent on anyone, but today we have fallen from the frying pan and into the fire,” pepper cultivators said. The local pepper growers called for a 100% import duty on pepper to protect their industry.

The local growers say that the price previously remained at Rs. 1, 400 per kilo. As such the government should give a subsidy of Rs. 1,000 per kilo, said the pepper farmers. This is a move to save the grower who incurs large sums of money in growing pepper due to high cost of labor and the fertilizer, including the cost of watering the plants under drought conditions and harvesting. This practice of giving a subsidy of Rs. 1,000 was already in existence for rubber smallholders.

The Ratnapura-Embilipitiya road was blocked from morning on July 14, 2017 due to a protest staged by around 100 pepper cultivators who demanded that the government stop the import of pepper into the country. There was another protest in September. It was called off since the Government promised to buy local pepper from farmers in two weeks. That does not seem to be happening and therefore the protests are to be resumed,” said the pepper growers later.  The government‘s explanation for the fall in pepper prices is that there was a glut of local pepper at the time.

The onion farmers also had a similar complaint. In September 2017 onion farmers charged that a glut of imported Bombay onions in the market had resulted in a drastic fall in the price of local onions. Traders at the Dambulla Economic Centre said that the importation of Bombay onions from neighboring countries has resulted in reduced demand for the local variety. Farmers said that a kilo of local Bombay onions that they usually sold for Rs. 35 to Rs. 50 is now going even lower and they are unable to recover the monies they had spent on cultivation. Some traders are quoting lower prices claiming that the onions are wet and have sprouted because of the rains. Farmers claimed the products bought from them at lower prices are sold at the existing market prices. A kilo of imported Bombay onions at the Pettah market is being sold at rates of Rs. 75 to Rs.85 while the local Bombay onion is sold between Rs.65 to Rs.80, they said in September 2017.

There was also another threat. JVP wanted to know in Parliament whether the government was planning to sell the Mahailluppalama seed farm to a Bangladesh firm ‘Lal Teer’. They said cabinet approval has been granted. This gave the rights of local seed production to a foreign company and also granted it the authority to import seed and obtain patents for local seeds.

Yahapalana then turned its attention to the tea estates. The acreage owned by the Regional Tea plantations was to be limited to 5000 acres according to Budget 2017, which means that they could lose about 28% of the current land. This will also cause administrative and financial problems for the companies since they have signed 55 year leases with government and also have to pay off loans said the executives. Further, Planters Association of Ceylon said that the glycophosphate ban has created a major crisis in plantations. Productivity of tea is slowly collapsing and tea production is expected to fall 20% cent this year mainly in Regional Plantation Companies.

The Planters Association also complained that Yahapalana has requested estate lands amounting to approximately 6120 hectares, in five plots from  Kotagala Plantations, Horana Plantations and Pussellawa Plantations for establishment of industrial zones. This is the largest extent of land ever requested for acquisition by the state in the history of the Regional Plantation Companies, the Association said. Such a request was ‘going beyond the limit’. The reduction in cultivable lands will affect the plantation crops also the thousands living on the estates.

Now to the subject of Yahapalana and energy. Yahapalana is continuing the emphasis on solar power started by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and has given priority to solar power. The first utility scale solar power project in Sri Lanka, by  Sagasolar , in collaboration with Faber capital, was opened in Baruthankanda, Hambantota in December 2016.  This is the largest solar project in Sri Lanka It will provide 10 MW of power to the national grid and will be sufficient to provide the annual electricity needed so 15,000 typical Sri Lanka homes.

Yahapalana government has launched a million roof top solar power plant project.  These will feed the national grid allowing customers to sell extra power direct to the CEB. But government will not provide the solar equipment, they must be purchased, banks will give loans. Accordingly, Solar Power Plants of 11.3 MW are being connected national grid and about 30 MW are being generated under net metering.  Yahapalana also plans to construct three Solar Parks with 100 MW each in Siyabalanduwa, Moneragala.

Yahapalana has also started a project to convert all state sector buildings to solar power.  The roofs of all state institutions will be converted into solar power stations and all temples have been provided solar panels free said Yahapalana in 2017. Royal College, Colombo is the first solar powered school.

According to the Power and Renewable Energy Ministry’s Energy Sector Development Plan 2015-2025,” the goal is to make the country an energy self-sufficient nation” by 2030.  According to the objectives set out in this plan, the government is aiming at 60 percent of the energy mix to be renewables by 2020 and 70 percent by 2030, without diesel or coal.

Government hopes to reach the ambitious goal of powering the entire country using renewable energy and ‘indigenous’ sources, mainly natural gas, by 2030. Yahapalana‘s proposed energy mix consists of   major hydro, mini hydro, solar, wind, biomass, natural gas, furnace oil-based power and gas turbine power. Coal was to be  completely eliminated.

During the Rajapakse regime, there was a plan  to have  a coal powered electricity plant at Sampur. CEB had already started preparing for the Sampur power plant by setting up transmission towers for it. Yahapalana cancelled the on-going Sampur power generation project as well as the  Sampur No 2 project that was also in the pipeline. Yahapalana wanted this Indian-funded coal power plant changed to  a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) power plant. India  said that was not possible.

CEB engineers condemned the policy to call off the Sampur coal powered plant. They wanted the coal fired plant, otherwise there will be power shortages in 2018.  CEB  then proposed a series of alternative power plants to counter the closure of the Sampur Coal Power Plant . Coal was not the best certainly, but it was the most suitable at the time, CEB said. Coal is the cheapest option to day   and the Electricity Act specifically asks that they provide the ‘least cost’ option for generation so that consumers are able to afford electricity at a reasonable price. CEB  wanted the  government to go ahead with the proposed clean coal power plant” to be built  with a soft loan from Japan.

CEB  thereafter submitted a   electricity plan, which included six coal power plants to be built over the next 20 years. This was rejected by the PUCSL . CEB was asked to  prepare a plan without coal plants. The CEB said  No”. CEB and its  union  insisted on the construction of low cost coal power plants. CEB warned that if the government did not implement this, the country would face a power shortage in 2018. The country risked spiraling towards a major power crisis, CEB said. Power cuts would be an ever present threat to the country with severe power shortages expected in 2022/23.

Yahapalana is playing around with the electricity needs of the country, said  critics. The power sector is very badly managed, said Harry Jayawardene  It is  now  nearly three years since Sampur power plant was cancelled, and there is no firm decision on how to replace it with,  what, where and by whom, said critics in 2017. None of the coal and renewable energy plants  that had been planned have been built. The last power plant to be built was Norochcholai, started in 2009 and complete in 2014. At least 300 Mega Watts (MW) of additional power  will be needed for the national grid in 2018, according to PUCSL estimates. Sri Lanka now enters this power crisis with not a single power plant built. Instead Yahapalana has  cancelled all long term projects and    is concentrating on  emergency power only.

Yahapalana has approved emergency diesel power plants. We rely on diesel now, said critics. It was necessary to rely on diesel as coal and LNG plants could not meet the immediate requirement of 200-300 MW of extra power needing to be added to the grid by 2018, said Yahapalana.  The electricity now comes from diesel power plants, at three times the cost of the electricity the cancelled Sampur would have produced, and they emit noise and the same amount of sulphur and even more harmful emissions, uncontrolled, in various parts of the country, said critics. As of April 2017, 42 percent of  the  electricity generation came from oil. Cabinet  also approved the establishment of two liquid natural gas 500MW power plants to be set up by the Japanese and Indian governments.

Yahapalana government was planning to build two diesel power plants producing costly electricity at Kerawalapitiya and Hambantota as private ventures, and these were being awarded to friends of the government and government would have to pay  high rates to get their electricity. An  international tender was floated in February  2017 to set up the combined cycle power plant powered by dual fuel, initially diesel fuel or heavy oil fuel, and then re-gasified liquefied natural gas (RLNG) at a future date when it is available, at the boundary of the site at Kerawalapitiya in the Gampaha District.

The project is to be developed on a Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) basis by private sector participation. The operation period, before transferring the facility to the CEB, is 20 years. However, the awarding of a tender for this 300 MW dual fuel power plant at Kerawalapitiya has been put on hold after differences surfaced between the Tender Board and the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) over who should be awarded the tender reported the media in July 2017.

From January-April 2017 we have spent an additional USD 160 million on diesel and fuel oil, said critics. ‘The situation is unsustainable. We can’t continue to pay exorbitant amounts to purchase electricity from fuel oil and diesel power plants, which are a drain on the economy’, said the CEB.

CEB  said in 2016 that would lose more than Rs 25 billion  in 2017 if it continued to buy electricity from high coast thermal power produced with diesel and renewable energy from the private sector. In 2017 it said that an additional Rs 150 million per day was needed  for diesel and fuel oil. The recent government decision to cancel the planned coal power plants and install a number of large oil power plans instead will cost the country a huge sum . It will also increase the cost of production of our goods.  The electricity tariff and other taxes will have to be increased.

There is now a tug of war between the Ceylon Electricity .Board and   the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) which regulates the  energy sector. CEB accused the PUCSL of exceeding the powers vested in it, under the Sri Lanka Electricity Act  and of violating its own planning code.

PUCSL does not want any coal, CEB does. CEB  explained that they would include more renewables as they became cheaper but the issue at present was reliability of supply when it comes to renewables. . If we are to just rely on renewables, what will we do at night when the sun is out or when there is no wind? We also don’t have the affordable technology at present for storage, said CEB.

CEB has been consistent and coherent, in what it says is best for Sri Lanka’s future power generation, from both technical and economic considerations. It recommends a mix of all the competing generating technology/fuel options, now that coal, liquefied natural gas, wind and solar costs have all come to the same range, each with its own technical, commercial and environmental merits and de-merits, strengths and weaknesses.

CEB also objected to the intervention of the  President and Prime Minister . The Electricity Act indicates who should prepare the power plan. It is not the President or Prime Minister. Power plants are decided by experts said CEB. The  Prime Minister  cannot throw away a professionally prepared 20 year plan saying it is useless, said CEB.  CEB was also opposed to Yahapalana  seeking a Cabinet directive to decide on the Power plants. CEB has its own planning branch for such projects

PUCSL remained silent  when Yahapalana cancelled the Sampur power plants. CEB protested heavily, observed analysts. PUCSL  also refrained from approving the long-term generation expansion plan of CEB in 2016, approving only oil-burning power plants and PUCSL unilaterally changed CEB’s generation expansion plan of 2017.  PUCSL has not objected to diesel power plants. Where does the Power regulator, the PUCSL, lie in this ‘no coal ‘ debate? Nowhere, said analysts.

PUCSL kept silent when leaders were playing havoc with power plants back in 2015.  PUCSL did not exercise powers vested with it, to advice the Government of the consequences of ad-hoc decisions on major power plants. In its desperate attempt to toe the line of the Government, PUCSL has forgotten that its obligations are not to politicians but to electricity customers.

There is political interference in electricity planning, charged critics. The minister for power and energy is left out and electricity  generation is handled by  other ministries such as  Water supply and BOI. Power plants are no longer built by CEB or private investors, supervised by the Ministry of Energy. They are decided by committees sitting in various Ministries, except in the Energy Ministry.

The same government with the same Prime Minister      and the same officials were engaged in the same experiments in 1991, 2001 and now 2016, said Siyambalapitiya. The same individuals who messed it up in 1991-1994 and 2001-2004 are at it in 2016. There were blackouts in1992-1994, blackouts in 2000-2001, plus eight new oil power plants.  In 2001-2004 we ended up with two more small oil burning power plants, making it ten.

From 2015  onwards already three diesel new power plants are in operation, more are on the way. More contracts, and remember, at three times the cost of “cancelled” power plants. Look carefully at the above dates.  The players in 1992, 1995, 2001 and now are exactly the same, in spite of their advancing age. The game is the same too. The creation of expensive diesel plants .  But now, under Yahapalana   there is  also a regulatory commission to readily approve diesel and more diesel power plants, making the external meddling of the energy sector appear to be perfectly legal.

Policy changes are made in other countries too, observed analysts.  Some  European countries decided to phase out nuclear power. But they did not do so overnight. They managed the policy transition very carefully, over a long period of time, without harming their economies with high electricity costs and power outages, and they most certainly,  did not go in for emergency diesel power plants. Yahapalana on the other hand followed a policy of ‘cancel first’, then get into a fix, and order emergency diesel power plants at three times the cost of the cancelled project.  Instead of awarding a big power plant contract once in a few years, Yahapalana awards diesel contracts once every few months.

It is reported that a Japanese Firm is investing a million dollars on a mini hydro plant at Eratana in Ratnapura, said Garvin Karunaratne in 2017. It means that the waters of the Kalu Ganga will be used to generate power and sold to the Electricity Board and to people in the area and the profits, in terms of payment for the electricity consumed will be sent off to the owners of the Japanese company in hard foreign exchange.

Karunaratne also highlighted how the waters of a stream that flows into the Mahaweli River at Udugama on the Gampola Nuwara Eliya Road, are being developed into a mini hydro plant by a German company, and once it is done the power will be sold and the profits will flow in foreign exchange to Germany from Sri Lanka. It is a simple thing to develop a mini hydro plant. Many of our tea estates had mini hydro- plants and generated power to run the factories. Instead of developing better designs we encourage foreigners to come in and convert our water resources to power, and then convert power to foreign exchange and take it away.

Villagers troubled by the damage to the environment caused by mini-hydro power projects joined environment groups  in January 2017, to take their anger to the doorsteps of the Central Environment Authority. More than 200 villagers from different parts of Sri Lanka were among the protesters who denounced the projects.

Many of the protesters were from Marukanda in Kuruvita, Ratnapura. They said the mini-hydro plant at Marukanda will affect at least 4 kilometres of the river. Already there are 3 mini-hydros in Kuruganga and another in an associated waterway within a short distance. These will adversely impact on the biodiversity of a sanctuary. They are not willing to accept any more mini-hydro power plants. Although district officials have decided to halt the latest project, which began in December, it is continuing with the backing of a high profile political figure in Ratnapura.

We decided to protest as a last resort. The remaining waterfalls will be destroyed by upcoming hydro projects, so they have to be stopped as our waterfalls are not only for electricity generation,” said Rainforest Protectors which was one of the organizers of the protest. Based on wrong policies and improper guidelines, the mini-hydro power dams have become an environmental disaster,”  they said. Mini-hydro power plants now in operation must be regularly monitored.

Protesters blamed agencies such as the Central Environment Authority, Sustainable Energy Authority, and the Ceylon Electricity Board for approving the mini-hydro power plants in environmentally sensitive areas. They allege the CEA is too lenient or that corrupt officials are approving projects. The CEA Chairman  said new licenses for mini-hydro projects will not be issued. He promised that all the problematic mini-hydro power projects will be evaluated within the next three months.

Finland has agreed to provide the technology to generate electricity from sea waves  in Sri Lanka  and Yahapalana has accepted. The technology would be used to produce environment friendly wave energy, electricity, clean the sea water and pump water.  AW Energy Facility based in Helsinki, Finland has expressed willingness to support Sri Lanka to produce wave energy. The primary research in the Sri Lankan coastal areas had already been  done by AW Energy and they would begin the production of energy by next year they said in October 2017.

Even though waves are not used to produce energy in many parts of the world,  it is a potential source of energy in the future,  said Yahapalana .The Indian Ocean has been identified as a region to produce wave energy. Our country is surrounded by sea, and therefore, we can generate electricity using sea waves easily, said Yahapalana .

G.A.D.Sirimal,  former Asst. Secretary Ministry for Power and Energy  said  with reference to this project, this reminds me,  in early 1980s, a foreign firm was lobbying feverishly with the backing of politicians to set up an Ocean Wave Thermal plant [OTEC] at our cost. I discussed this new technology with some energy experts whom I met in China, and I was told an experimental plant had been tested off Hawaii coast and abandoned. Probably, the same company that carried out this experiment wanted to make us  finance such a project to carry out further experiments. However, the then Secretary to the Ministry for Power and Energy was wise enough to guess the machination , and without hurting politicians’ aggressive support to the firm which came with this proposal, advised that it could be allowed on a Build, Operate and Own [BOO] basis, where the Ceylon Electricity Board [CEB] would buy electricity on an agreed price. Of course, as expected, the firm withdrew. The technology has improved since then  but, if any company wishes to set up such a plant, it would be prudent to offer the same condition as stated earlier, Srimal suggested.

Yahapalana is also engaged in turning garbage into energy, a move started by the Rajapaksa government. Yahapalana has started the two projects (Nikasala Javaya) for generating 20 Mega Watts of electricity from garbage with an investment of Rs. 27 billion by two private organizations in Kerawelapitiya yesterday.

Yahapalana has also started Karadiyana electricity generating project. A large quantity of waste would be collected daily at the Karadiyana Waste Management Yard, out of which 500 metric tons could be transformed into energy. The Karadiyana project was awarded to Fairway Private Ltd. after calling for tenders through competitive bidding. Electricity generated by the project would be sufficient to feed 37,500 houses. It would also produce carbonic fertilizer in addition to electricity. The process would help reduce the amount of waste released to the environment by almost 90 percent and provide a sustainable solution to the environmental and social problems caused due to the dumping of waste.

At present, Karadiyana receives approximately 500 tons of waste per day from municipalities such as Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Kesbewa and Maharagama. The plant will also recover the nutrients in the waste returning it to earth as fertilizer and the energy content will be transformed into electricity to be distributed to consumers. This Waste to Energy project is scheduled to be completed in 18 months.  A waste park was also being developed in Kerawalapitiya by the Land Reclamation and Development Corporation,   Yahapalana also said Meetotamulla garbage mountain would be developed as an urban park within the next three years. The area covered by the Bloemendhal waste dump would be developed in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the Customs Department.

One Response to “AGRICULTURE, ENERGY AND YAHAPALANA”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Haven’t got the time to read all above but I must say if anyone wants to invest on a solar electric farm in the country meet many obstacles which is part of the corrupt system. This is so for any other venture on wants to start.Politicians and their cronies have no such obstacles.

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