Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya
Power and Renewable Energy Minister, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said, in the instance the prevailing drought continues for another six months, the Ministry has the ability to manage the situation without resorting to power cuts. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Minister Siyambalapitiya said, what they expect from the people is to help in their endeavour to further increase the target of saving 50 MW of electricity per day, and added it would definitely help minimize the cost. According to calculations, if the drought continues for another 6 months, an additional cost of Rs. 50 billion will have to be borne to provide electricity, but we hope this situation will not continue for as long as six months, as rains are expected in March. We call upon consumers to extend their fullest cooperation to minimize the rising energy cost.
The Minister elaborated:
“The drought directly affects power generation. Of the total power generation, 40 percent is still covered by hydro power. The average water capacity in the reservoirs had come down to 32 percent by Wednesday (January 18). This is the lowest capacity recorded in the reservoirs, for the last ten years. In order to overcome this, we have proposed several methodologies for Cabinet approval. One is, to purchase 60 KWs of power. We have called for tenders to purchase the 60 KW at international prices. In addition, we hope to commission all power stations. We have also decided to extend our agreement with three private power stations in Puttalam (100 MW) Embilipitiya (100 MW) and Matara (25 MW) in another year. At present, the generators owned by various institutions have 500 MW. We call upon the institutions to make use of their generators and save electricity generated by the National Grid. The Ministry will pay them Rs.36 per unit. The production cost of electricity from a large scale generator is Rs. 20 and a small scale generator, Rs.30. Whether they use large or medium scale generators, we have made calculations to allow them a profit of Rs.5 per unit. Even though 500 MW are made available by various institutions, the Ministry through this move hopes to save at least 200 to 250 MW.
“We have also decided to educate consumers and save 25 to 50 MW of electricity per day. We would utilize several methodologies for the purpose. There are about one million street lights in the country. We have requested to reduce the duration of their illumination by an hour. Normally, street lights are switched on at 5.30 or 6.00 pm. We request to switch them on at 6.30 or 7.00 pm and switch off at 5.50 am the following day. It would help conserve electricity considerably. Still, the old bulbs are used by low income families in their homes. As a result, we have to incur an additional cost of 40 MW per day. A unit of electricity is given at Rs.4 for low income families who consume below 60 units per month. We have decided to, either, give them LED bulbs, at concessionary rates or free of charge. According to calculations, if LED bulbs are given free of charge, it wouldn’t cause any loss to the country.
“We have also requested the President’s Secretary to issue a circular to state institutions asking them to maintain air conditioners within the range of 26 centigrade, in order to save electricity. The Ministry, through the Sustainable Energy Authority would ensure that these instructions are followed by state institutions. The air conditioners used by some state institutions within a range of 18 to 19 centigrade have led to considerable wastage, daily. The Ministry through its awareness program conducted in state institutions intends to save 25 to 50 MW per day.
“We would also introduce a rewarding system similar to lotteries, to consumers who save electricity by 20 to 30 percent in their average monthly electricity bills, during the last six months. The Ministry is exploring the possibility of granting them the next month’s electricity bill free of charge, or awarding cash prizes.
“We also hope to expedite the use of solar power, and issued a circular in this regard. To instal a solar panel, one could also obtain a bank loan. We have introduced three advantageous methods, namely, net metering, net accounting and net plus. Net plus has been especially introduced for low income families. We give a unit of electricity to low income families at even less than Rs.4, although we purchase a unit from them for Rs.19.50. Nearly 5.5 million householders have obtained electricity. Of them, 42 percent are small scale householders, who have no ability to use solar powers due to financial constraints. In accordance with our circular, consumers can purchase a solar panel from any manufacturer and the Climate Fund would provide them 2 KW solar power. For five years, they would not be billed, and in addition, get Rs.500 to Rs. 1,000 monthly. Our agreement is for 20 years and after five years, they would get half the income. Even for those with a 40 or 50 square foot roof, a solar panel can be installed. This program is conducted by the Climate Fund. We have planned to set up solar power villages countrywide.
“Following a Cabinet memorandum that I submitted, President Maithripala Sirisena has appointed a Cabinet Sub Committee under the chairmanship of the Disaster Management Minister, including, Power and Renewable Energy, Water Supply, Irrigation and Agriculture Ministers. This committee will meet once a week under the patronage of the President to examine day to day issues. I have also proposed to appoint a Ministry Secretaries’ Committee, to discuss and solve issues on a daily basis. The Cabinet has already given approval to appoint this committee.
“We expect consumers to help us further increase the target of saving 50 MW of electricity per day, which would in turn minimize the cost. According to calculations, if the situation continues for another 6 months, we would have to incur an additional cost of Rs. 50 billion. But we are hopeful it would not be so, as rains are expected in March. Our electricity requirement during peak hours is 2,200 MW per day, while this is the most crucial period to manage electricity. We request consumers to at least, switch off a single bulb and operate air conditioners at 26 centigrade, during peak hours.”
The Minister said, “ if we implement this program properly, even if the drought continues for the next six months, we can still manage without resorting to power cuts. We have informed the Government on the additional cost to be incurred, and they have agreed to systematically release the required funds. We have proposed two mechanisms. One, to provide us fuel without adding taxes, so that we would not undergo similar experiences we had had to face in 2001. Even if the drought persists for another six months, our plan is to continuously provide electricity to the people without placing any additional burden on them. In the instance of any breakdown at power stations, like the Norochcholai, the Public Utilities Commission has advised us to purchase 100 to 120 MW, by calling international quotations. If anyone is willing to supply us electricity at lower rates, without maintenance charges, we would consider them, as well. According to the Electricity Act, in an emergency, the Minister has powers to purchase electricity without going for quotations. But, I have assured the Cabinet that I would not do so. The Ministry, by calling for competitive quotations has been able to purchase electricity at lower rates, rather than what we obtained under some of the old agreements.”