Interim measures for energy needs
Posted on September 11th, 2022

by Neville Ladduwahetty Courtesy The Island

According to a media report the Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera has set up a committee to evaluate renewable energy project proposals…with the aim of identifying the obstacles to the quick implementation of renewable projects and providing solutions for them” (Daily News, August 27, 2022).

This step has been taken at a meeting, which was led by the Minister with the Ceylon Electricity Board and Sustainable Energy Authority officials to review progress of renewable energy projects… Under this the Committee will evaluate the proposals received on a 100-Megawatt solar energy project to be set up in the Siyambalanduwa area. Moreover, a study of floating solar energy projects proposed to be built in reservoirs will be carried out.” (Ibid.)

While the attempt to exploit renewable energy is an absolute necessity, and solar power generation is a vital contributor towards such a goal, NO attention has been paid to doubling the capacity of the Victoria Hydro Power Project despite the fact that provisions for expansion were provided when the existing structure was constructed. What is even more glaring is the fact that while the proposed 100 MW solar project would require 500 to 1,000 acres of land, expansion of Victoria does not use any additional water other than what already passes through without being exploited to its full potential. This indeed is a sad indictment on successive Ministries of Power and Energy, and the Sustainable Energy Authority.

POWER GENERATION

The only explanation why the recommendations proposed in a Feasibility Study for Expansion of Victoria Hydropower Station”, dated June 2009, and undertaken for the Ministry of Power and Energy on behalf of Japan International corporation Agency (JICA) by Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. Nippon Koei Co., Ltd have not been implemented is that the either the Ministry of Power and Energy has rejected the recommendations or they in the Ministry gathering cobwebs despite attention to their existence has being made known in repeated articles published in The Island.

Section 6.1 of this report states: The expansion of the Victoria Hydropower Station is composed of a headrace tunnel, a surge tank, penstock(s) and a powerhouse. The water intake was already constructed for the purpose of future expansion of the hydropower facility during the construction of the existing Victoria dam … One possible option of expansion plan is simply to place these components nearby the existing hydropower facility … referred to as ‘Basic Option’” (p. 29). Although the Report presents two other options, what is recommended is to place an expansion powerhouse nearby the existing powerhouse facility.”

In the Section 6 under Conclusions and Recommendations, the Report states: Based on the results in (5) above, the Project is to connect the existing intake for the expansion and a new powerhouse to be located next to the existing powerhouse with a waterway parallel to the existing waterway. Water for generation of 140 m3/s is to be taken at the existing intake for the expansion and led through the headrace tunnel and penstock to the surface type powerhouse. The installed capacity is 228 MW with 2 units, and 716 GWh of annual energy are obtained with the existing and expansion power facilities (210 MW and 228 MW). Power generated is evacuated to the CEB grid through the existing transmission lines.” (Ibid, p.4)

Section 7 under ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ states: The design in the Study is carried out at more detailed level than conducted in a feasibility study on a hydropower project, in accordance with S/W (Scope of Work) for the Study. In the basic design, salient features of civil structures and electromechanical equipment for the optimal development scheme selected in (5) are examined, and drawings are prepared. Following that, the construction planning, estimate of the project cost, and preparation of implementation schedule are conducted” (Ibid).

As stated in the Feasibility Study cited above, the fact that provision was made in the existing Victoria Dam for expansion, reflects the confidence the original designers had to double its capacity. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan agency that over saw the project also would have been aware of the provisions for expansion. Despite all this awareness, the fact that the project has lapsed means that those responsible should be held accountable. Perhaps, the Committee for Public Enterprise (COPE) should summon the relevant Authority and call for explanation as to why this project has been allowed to lapse all this time.

The material presented above clearly demonstrates that a real opportunity exists to double the capacity at Victoria using a resource that is not only the cleanest and cheapest resource to generate power, but also one that allows these freely available resources to be wasted without making full use of their potential. It is indeed a serious omission to pursue new power generation projects without expanding capacities at existing power generation units, such as those at Victoria.

INTERIM ENERGY NEEDS

The current arrangement in respect of importing fuel oil requirements is not sustainable judging from the reappearance of fuel queues to obtain their quotas. Sri Lanka has to accept the fact that the primary cause is the lack of sufficient foreign exchange to maintain steady supplies of both crude oil and finished petroleum products. Furthermore, it is also fact that the capacity of the existing Refinery at Sapugaskanda is insufficient to meet all of Sri Lanka’s energy needs.

The only option for Sri Lanka is to explore seriously and urgently a joint venture to set up a refinery of sufficient capacity to meet not only local needs, but also for export. Furthermore, by locating such a refinery in Trincomalee, where the combination of the existing storage tanks that could be refurbished, coupled with the strategic location in the Indian Ocean could be a profitable venture for any country that wished to participate in such a venture, because it could not only serve Sri Lanka’s needs but also serve the Indian Ocean Rim countries.

The invitation extended by Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia to set up an oil refinery reported in The Daily News of September 2, 2022 is particularly heartening. According to this report the invitation has been extended by Sri Lanka’s Environment Minister Naseer Ahmed who went to Saudi Arabia last Sunday as a special representative of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, made this invitation during the discussion with Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed AI-Quraji and the CEO of the Saudi Foundation for Development, Sultan AI-Mershad”. However, while the need to extend an invitation to set up a Refinery is commendable, its success or failure depends on the basis on which the deal is negotiated.

Whenever the idea of setting up an oil refinery in Sri Lanka is mooted, the immediate but unimaginative response is that it is a long-term project. While this is an indisputable fact and therefore does not serve the immediate needs, the challenge could be overcome if the terms of the venture are such that intermediate needs are supplied on a deferred payment basis to be paid back from the shares of the venture when the refinery comes into operation. In addition, the terms of the venture should be such that the cost of the installed refinery should be considered as being on par with the investment in the storage facility and the location for distribution to Indian Ocean Rim countries. Furthermore, the savings accrued by deferring payments while the refinery is being set up could contribute towards the debt payment. This by itself is an extremely significant factor. Additionally, the setting up a refinery would present an opportunity to move out some of the excess fat from the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, and make it lean and profitable.

CONCLUSION

The issues raised above relate to two vital issues that would contribute immeasurably to the economy. The first is what measures could be adopted to improve the capacity of power generation from Renewable Energy, and the second is how to ensure a sustainable energy strategy to meet the energy needs of Sri Lanka.

The solution to the first issue is to double the power generation capacity at the Victoria Hydro Power Project as recommended in a feasibility report to the Ministry of Power and Energy in 2009, cited above. The second issue can be overcome by setting up a refinery as a joint venture with a partner that has abundant supplies of crude oil. The fact that a special representative of the President Wickremesinghe had discussions with Deputy Foreign Minister and the CEO of Saudi Foundation for Development, Sultan AI- Mershad is both helpful and encouraging. However, the country’s dependence on fossil fuels should only be an interim measure until Sri Lanka could be dependent on renewable energy for its power and energy needs. Both issues have been presented in previous articles. The need has arisen to repeat them is in the hope that a new administration under a new President and a new Prime Minister together with a committed and dedicated Power and Energy Minister would take note and act on what is proposed herein, and pursue the efforts initiated for Sri Lanka to sustain its Power and Energy needs.

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