Is the Samapura coal-power generator NECESSARY?
Posted on May 11th, 2016

Chandre Dharmawardana, Ottawa, Canada.

Kumar David, well-known columnist and past Professor of Electrical Engineering in Hong Kong has come forward to defend (May 8, Island Newspaper, and in the Colombo telegraph) the controversial coal-power installation which has become a thorn of controversy. The ancient name of the city itself (saama-pura, the “city of Peace”), has been long forgotten; it has been a place where blue murder has been committed by both sides in the name of ethnic nationalism. It was here that a French NGO abandoned its local recruites to face the wrath of the tigers and the cross-fire from the government forces. So, let us forget the “saama” part and look at this sheer bone of contention, even when it comes to installing a power plant.

The country is badly in need of power, (just as it is short of a lot of other things, or even honest politicians!). So, are we to please various foreign vendors and their local agents by purchasing the Indian coal-power plant (50 MW), or the Japanese coal-power plant (1200 MW) plant, and accept the environmental degradation and increased mortality rates, as well as the need to ship coal from those vendors for many years to come? Or, do we try to push for a more sensible approach? Professor Kumar David argues that we have no other alternative, and that other proposals are all wooly eyed and impractical. He says that we don’t have enough sunlight hours, and enough empty land area to house solar plants. He seems to suggest that Dendro power (burning biomass), wind etc., are all still mere ‘pie in the sky’ ideas in the minds of “renewable energy evangelicals”. Clearly, Professor David considers this also to be “a revolution that will not happen” in our time, or that it is another “un-winnable war”?

Let us just go across the Palk Straits to Cochin, India, where the climate, sunlight effluence etc., are very similar to those of Sri Lanka. We have the following report”, “Eyeing to generate one lakh MW solar power in the country, Ministry of Civil Aviation (India) has decided to establish solar power plants at all airports. As a part of the programme, already 12-MW solar power plant was established at Cochin International Airport and the entire airport is operated on solar power at present …Speaking at a programme on Sunday, Civil Aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju  said that already a 5-MW solar power plant was set up at New Delhi airport (Indian Express, 8-May-2016)”.

India is slowly coming to its senses after having already done much damage to itself with its many coal-power plants. Many Tamil-Nadu coal-powered plants are in the vicinity of Sri Lanka. Nearly fifty coal-fired power stations along the coast of Tamil Nadu spew out metal toxins and particulate gases, brought southwards by the trade winds and monsoons. Some 1,15,000 premature deaths in India result from pollution due to coal-fired generators (Hindu, March 11, 2013). This number is much more than the deaths from kidney disease in the Rajarata. The environmental impact of Indian power plants on Sri lanka is unknown and it is urgent that those who talk of a toxin-free nation” should immediately study it. The fact that these coal-power plants are across the ocean is irrelevant as some of them are closer than Colombo is to Jaffna.

Coal-fired electricity may be “cheap” only if you ignore the cost of dealing with the health problems that are cause by its, for many decades to come. In contrast, solar energy is somewhat more expensive initially, but it is clean and done with!

Both organic and inorganic” agriculture, as well as attempts for healthy living will be smothered by over-arching pollution from the Indian coal-fired generators, as well as from the ubiquitous pollution from petroleum fumes and other petro-chemicals produced by the ever-increasing number of motor vehicules on the roads. All these are class-I carcinogens (i.e., you definitely get cancer on exposure to them, besides getting a whole host of other illnesses and allergies). Class-II carcinogens may give cancer at very high doses and long exposures. For instance, a dose of up to 8 tea spoons per day of glyphosate may be safely ingested by a 70 kg individual, according the the relevant European occupational health authority. However, yielding to fear-mongering, the Sri Lankan government has banned Glyphosate, one of the least dangerous substances in the group of class-II carcinogens, while leaving most class-I carcinogens and all other class-II carcinogens untouched. The plan to install more coal capacity while talking of a “toxin-free agriculture” is sheer hypocrisy.

Prof. David’s worry about there not being enough free surface area to position solar panels suggests that he needs to look up, and notice all the roof tops of building, hotels, hospitals, schools etc., that can be used. Architects should mandatorily include solar paneling in every new building or house just as they put in flooring and electric wiring in any building. The money allocated for coal-fired power plants should be used as a fund to subsidize such ventures through bank loans and subsidies.

Even northern countries like Germany, which has less sun than Sri Lanka have gone in a big way for Solar energy. France relies on nuclear generators for nearly 80% of its needs and has shaken off the need for polluting fuels.

Of course, at present most of the electricity demand in Sri Lanka is during the night. But with enough solar panels, people will use electricity for air-conditioning, and the peak period will shift to daytime.

Increasing industrialization as well as the use of electricity for rail transport will also shift the peak hours to daytime. In any case, excess day-time electricity production can be used to even pump back water into reservoirs as a means of storing energy for use at other times. However, the CEB is a slow and inefficient beast, possibly riddled with the usual ills of corruption and mismanagement. Perhaps Professor David knows more about such matters. However, the CBC has still not given (as far as I know) a tariff figure for the purchase of electricity from private individuals, although some credit is given in terms of banking any net electricity units generated by a private owner.

Even in the area of Dendro electricity production, it is the CBE that seems to be the slowest link. I have heard of at least two cases of 10 MW Dendro power plants (private sector) that were ready to be hooked up during the 2011-2012 period, but the CBE was not ready with their substations! Dendro power and other “bio-mass” power sources are “carbon neutral”, in the sense that they put back to the environment just the carbon that was absorbed when the plants (e.g. Gircidia) grew.

There are some who think that our troubles will be over when the gas deposits in the Sri Lankan seas begin to be tapped. I would argue that the nations troubles will escalate to the maximum if the gas is tapped. Furthermore, the environmental impact on the topical marine ecology cannot even be assessed at this stage.All the international vultures will be upon the gas, and Sri Lanka will be like Nigeria, rich in fuel and run by foreign multinationals, while the people remain poor. They will be deliberately kept poor by those who exploit the gas.

Prof. David has is no novice to politics. In fact, I first knew him as an ardent engineering-faculty LSSP activist. So, when he says ” It need not be at Sampur, it can be elsewhere”, he is forgetting that locating it right near Gokarna (Trincomalee) is essential to the Indians. Their bid to control the port of Trincomalee will be further strengthened by their control over the power supply to the region. Once the Indians get the politically naive Sri Lankans to build the bridge over Rama-Sethu (Adam’s bridge), a direct railway line will connect the strategic port to India. Both Colombo hegemonists and Jaffna hegemonists will in the end find that they have been taken over by the big brother from the North. Mr. Wickremasinghe may think that this will weaken the hand of the Northern Provincial Council to a mere milli-volt, but he too will be nothing but a powerless spark from a Wimshurst machine.  So, I am sure the Indians want the power-plant in this very strategic location for much more than selling coal.

So, Prof. David is quite mistaken when he believes that moving away from coal-fired power plants is NOT a practical possibility available right now. It is not , by any means some sort of “pie in the sky idea” of alternative-energy evangelists.

7 Responses to “Is the Samapura coal-power generator NECESSARY?”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Mr Dharmawardena is right.
    Coal Plants are no good for the health.

    Solar Power is Green, Clean, and Renewable. In 2015, America’s Solar Energy output was 30% of the total output of all energy. Pres Obama employs War Vets for most of the Solar Energy projects, thus gaining two pluses. Germany has nearly 70% Green Energy (mostly Solar & Wind).

    Why can’t Lanka with both Solar & Wind Renewable resources, do the similar energy production ?

    We need a tough, right thinking Parliament and Leaders with good common sense.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    A related article from the Island, May 10, 2016 :

    Coal tender under Supreme Court scrutiny
    * SC considers coal tender a matter of public interest
    * PAB confirms bidder had improper communication with Tender Board
    * Petitioner alleges cabinet was misled by Power and Energy Minister

    May 10, 2016, 12:00 pm, ISLAND

    By C. A. Chandraprema
    In the old days when people spoke of corruption by those wielding political power, it was almost always a case of accepting commissions from the beneficiaries of contracts and deals with the government. However after the present ‘yahapalana’ government came into power, shady deals have acquired a mind numbing complexity such as the treasury bond scam. Another scam no less complex is the controversial coal tender issue which is now before the Supreme Court being heard by a three member bench comprising Chief Justice K Sripavan, and Justices Priyasath Dep and Upali Abeyratne. The case will be heard again on 25 May 2016. The SC has called on the Minister of Power and Energy and the other respondents in the case all of whom belong to the government, (and the Petitioner as well) to make submissions relating to two questions based on the facts of this case.


  3. plumblossom Says:

    I totally agree. Sri Lanka should build a gas powered power plant at Sampur since it is much more environmentally friendly and gas is cheaper than oil. However I feel there should be one type of power plant or another at Sampur and at Trincomalee since the US, UK, Canada, Norway, Sweden, India, EU all the imperialists are trying to take control of the Trincomalee Harbour to set up their naval and air bases. This is why the US, UK, EU, Canada, Norway, Sweden, India are trying to create an eelam. Therefore Sri Lanka should not lease out its oil tanks at Trincomalee to India. Sri Lanka should also not let the US, UK, EU, Canada, Norway, Sweden, India own or rent any assets whatsoever anywhere near the Trincomalee Harbour. Sri Lanka should remain a unitary state with only the present powers that the provincial councils have at present if Sri Lanka is to remain an independent country.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    The general idea of running/ruining the Economy of Lanka for some of the Yahap members is to ‘take the money and
    run’ .
    For some politicos, easy money, lies, cheat & deceit rules the times, whilst blaming the JO for everything past, present and future.

    The unkindest cut of all is the apparent sale of the country to INDIA and some others.

    Yahap leaders seem to be imitating some big country here ? Big countries can afford such action and get away with it, but small countries like Lanka may sink, taking the good, bad and the ugly along with the sinking …..

    There is a better way. Let those leaders who love the country and the people lead the way !

  5. Naram Says:

    Dear Dharme,

    Thank you for presenting your thoughts on this most worthwhile subject. Sometime time ago I listened to an expert scientist on Solar Power working in UK trying to sell the system to Sri Lanka by showing us pictures of classrooms with 20 laptops working on few panels mounted on their roofs. However the reality of such a low intensity power source is much different, as the power from a solar panel does not exceed that of few Torch batteries. The kind of power production that Sri Lanka needs from villages in Amparai to Thanamalvila or Jafna peninsula will need expensive hardware; hundreds of acres of Solar Panel estates protected with fences from wild life, rechargeable batteries to store the energy, wiring to convert low voltage to High volotage for transmission consumption at home level as it will be impossible to have this level of protection at each house. Nor is it feasible as a power source heavy energy consuming apparel factories. Do please face it – it is not a feasible solution right now.

    In a DORAMADALAWA programme few months ago a distinguished scientist showed a ground breaking pioneer project from Japan where they used panels mounted in outer space and transmitted that by microwaves to earth. That may be the future but current production of that pioneer plant is to limited to feed few dozen houses.

    Electric vehicles are now seen on roads but they need a reliable primary supply to charge the batteries. Of course solar panels have been a useful source for supplying hot water in homes but water on tap is not a primary need for most Sri Lankans yet.

  6. aloy Says:

    Germany is a world leader in technology. It seems a good part of their power needs come from solar. Why not get advice from them?.

  7. anura seneviratna Says:

    More than the topic of this letter what caught me first below:-

    ” it has been a place where blue murder has been committed by both sides in the name of ethnic nationalism.”

    Grossly untrue statement to generalise both sides as culprits of “ethnic nationalism”. It’s an insult to our mainly rural daughters and sons who died for us and who are the most marginalised and subjected to destitution in the entire island country. More over it’s not ethnic nationalism but blatant invasive terror to turn the Sinhela Island Country into a second Tamil Nadu (country).

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