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Kukule Ganga Hydro Power Project :

Relief from shocking electricity bills?

by Vimukthi Fernando

'Energy at low cost' is one of the dreams of Sri Lankan citizens. Not that they do not have other dreams. But, in infrastructure especially energy is the key to development argue some. And for years, Sri Lanka was able to produce low cost energy, by way of electricity through its massive hydropower schemes. But, not anymore... The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Sri Lanka's electricity giant who monopolises the field, finds it extremely hard to provide the required 20 million units (20 GWh - Giga Watt hours) per day. And today, the costs are running high, for 25 percent of Sri Lanka's electricity need is produced using thermal energy from oil.

A Japanese construction consultant explaining some finer points of construction to the minister.

In this context, words of the Power and Energy Minister, Karu Jayasuriya bring relief to consumers. He was hopeful of providing electricity at low cost at a recent inspection tour of the Kukule Ganga Hydro Power Project (KGHPP). The project "will help bring cost relief to the masses" he said adding that the unit cost would be "80 cents in the first ten years, and approximately Rs. 2.25 for the next 25 years." Started in 1999, the Kukule Ganga project, is scheduled to be commissioned in September, one month earlier than the estimated completion time. The first generator will start working in June. By early May, about 90 percent of the construction work was completed.

The project history goes back to the 1980s, where a 100 metre high dam displacing over 1,000 families was planned. However, after studying 6 alternative schemes, carrying out various tests and much protest from environmentalists it was finally decided to have a run of the river power plant with a 16 metres high and 110 metres long dam (at Meepagama), a power house 220m below ground and a tunnel system of 8.7 km (at Kelinkanda). And now, the pond (or the reservoir) area is limited to 120 hectares, with a capacity to hold 1.6 cubic metres of water displacing 19 households. The dam consists 4 sluice gates which enable both automatic and manual operation.

A totally different world underground... The tunnel leading to the powerhouse.

The water so collected in the pond is run through a settling tank or a sand trap, to stop some of the sediment particles which could damage the turbines from entering into the waterway. "This is the first time this technique is used in Sri Lanka," said Tissa M. Herath, Project Director. Why such a system is needed was because unlike in large reservoirs water does not get settled at a run of the river plant.

The water, cleared of debris and sediment is sent through a 5.7 km long and 6.4 km diameter headrace tunnel to the power house. At its full capacity, the two turbines working under a 185 mere water head and a water pressure of 47.5 cubic metres per second, generate 35.2 MW (Mega Watts) each. Two transformers step up the voltage to 132 KV and this is transferred to the national grid at the Mathugama sub station, through a 27 km long 132 KV, double circuit transmission line. After power generation, the water will be released to Kukule Ganga at Molkawa, 15 Kilo metres downstream.

The 70 MW capacity plant at Kukule Ganga would produce 317 GWh of electricity annually contributing to about 5 percent of the annual electricity requirement, said the Project Director. According to CEB statistics, the national requirement of electricity is estimated as 7,500 GWh per annum.

By operating the Kukuleganga plant CEB will save Rs. 2,000 million per annum as thermal power generation through oil would cost Rs. 5.50 to Rs. 6.00 per unit, he said. The Kukuleganga Hydro Power Project costs Rs. 15 billion and is assisted by the government of Japan. The Japanese Bank of International Corporation (JBIC) provided a soft loan of 27,127 million Yen (Rs. 12.5 billion) with a grace period of 10 years at 2.2 percent interest. The rest (Rs. 2.5 billion) is contributed by CEB. Switzerland, Germany and Austria joined hands with Japan providing consultancies and implementing the actual construction.

Kukule Ganga Project has set up an example in the CEB in being one of the first projects to take up the requirements and needs of the displaced families, said Herath. Fifty-two of the 58 families displaced at the dam site/pond area, access road and building sites, had already been relocated. Six families are to be relocated soon. The CEB had paid a total sum of Rs. 18 million as compensation for the tea and paddy land within the pond area.

The top part of one of the turbines being fixed

The protective measures undertaken by the project minimises environment pollution, says the Project Director.

The underground power station minimised clearing of the forest and the project activities including the waste disposal system was monitored by a team appointed by the Central Environment Authority.

Environment concerns for Kukule Ganga were more for it borders the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. A tributary to Sri Lanka's second largest river, Kalu Ganga, Kukule's origins are hidden in the core of the Sinharaja rain forest.

The project had already disturbed the fauna and flora of the forests reserves of Hallokaya, Mukalana and Warathalgoda, claim the environmentalists. Sinharaja is home to many an endemic species of fauna and flora including freshwater fish, orchids and amphibians.

Much environmental damage to the flora happened during the time of the construction of access roads and building sites, say the environmentalists. Another concern is the destruction of the habitats of endemic fish.

However, it is a fact that the flow of Kukule Ganga for 15 km, (from the intake to the outlet) is to be maintained with a mandatory release of 2.5 cubic metres of water per second.

Though this might be a possibility during the rainy season whether it could be maintained during the dry months is yet another question.

However high the anticipation runs, whether Kukule Ganga is gain or loss could only be gauged in time, when it comes into actual operation.

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