Norochcholai coal power plant : Pollution goes on unabated | Sunday Observer

Norochcholai coal power plant : Pollution goes on unabated

The surrounding areas engulfed with coal dust
The surrounding areas engulfed with coal dust

The adverse repercussions on the environment leading to climate change, due to pollution from the Norochcholai coal power plant, as reported, is an exaggeration, as the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has taken all precautions and preventive measures to minimize environmental pollution, a top official of the CEB told the Sunday Observer.

“The stories fabricated in the media and by various eco-groups are blatant lies as one could visit the site and get a clear picture of what is happening. Maximum efforts have been made and monitoring is carried out to ensure there is no damage to people’s health and the environment,” the official said.

The CEB, in collaboration with the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) has launched a program to monitor and recommend measures to mitigate the impact of the power plant on the environment.

A spokesman for NARA said, the program was launched this year and would take around six to eight months to ascertain the critical issues arising from the power plant, and thereafter, proposals would be made accordingly, on what course of action to be taken to minimize environmental hazards. NARA commenced work on the program last month with the CEB, to monitor the aquatic environment around the Norochcholai power plant. The project will monitor the social and environmental impact on the surrounding community, sea water and marine life. “We have undertaken investigation of the power plant which will take some time to ascertain the level of the impact on the environment. Until such time we do not wish to comment on the views expressed by various organizations and individuals,” NARA spokesman said. NARA will monitor the situation around the power plant for about a year and will thereafter present a report on the project.

Emission standards

The NARA spokesman said, they have received the fullest support of the CEB to carry out investigations. Despite the limited resources we will do our best to carry out the investigations, he said. The coal power project in Norochcholai commenced to generate 300MW under the first phase in 2008, and currently 900MW is generated through the project.It is located in a vast area fortified by a security zone. The CEB sources said, the project conforms to all emission standards and has ensured there is no release of toxic substances to the environment.

“We have acted on the complaints, to mitigate possible damage to the ecology,” a CEB engineer at the site said. He said, the CEB has constructed a 14-metre wind barrier to prevent dust being carried to the residential area, farmland and livestock. The tender for the project has been closed and the bids have been presented to the Cabinet for approval.

“We have purchased a land around 100 metres from the boundary of the project with the consent of the residents in the area to widen the buffer zone with plants cultivated to suit the climate,” he said.

The CEB sources said, a water spraying machine to prevent dust forming will be purchased this year and tenders for its purchase will be called soon. He said, steps have been taken to comply with the standards for the release of cooled water to the seas . The maximum temperature gazetted is 45 Celsius. The water released to the sea from the plant varies from 32 to 33 Celsius. The CEB plans to purchase a chemical to solidify ash and thereby prevent dust formation. The project currently is at the stage of calling tenders. “Air pollution through flying ash is almost zero today. A large percentage of flying ash is trapped at the chimney and sold to cement factories,” CEB sources said. However, ecological groups and the Catholic church hold a different view. Environmentalists and clergy in the area said, the impact on the environment from the plant goes unabated despite repeated appeals to mitigate damage to the ecology.

Vicar General of the Diocese of Chilaw Rev. Fr. Prasad Chaminda said, the people of Ilantheadiya, a village close to the project site are adversely affected by emissions to the environment which have caused health hazards and problems to their livelihoods. He said, being a fisheries and agricultural community the impact on their livelihood is catastrophic. Fishermen complain that the daily catch has dropped and farmers are unable to yield a good harvest due to the dust spread by the wind. “The Chilaw Bishop, Rt Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis has spoken about the issue to the authorities on several occasions but to no avail,” he said.

Ilantheadiya Parish Priest, Rev. Fr.Ranil Sandaruwan said, though the environment impact assessment report states that a tank will be built to collect ash, there is nothing of the sort. Ash scattered in the area through winds is destroying cultivation and causing health hazards to residents.

Heated water

‘There is no adequate fish for the villagers due to the heated water released to the sea. All appeals to minimize the impact have fallen on deaf ears,” he said. Norochcholai, Ilantheadiya, Taniadiya, Alankudawa and Narakkaliya areas are affected by the environmental pollution, according to Fr. Sandaruwan.

Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice, Hemantha Withanage said, coal is a fossil fuel, which is mainly responsible for climate change.

Despite this truth, developing nations still build coal power plants for generating cheaper electricity, while developed countries sell the coal technology. The use of coal has been a three-decade-old debate in Sri Lanka. “ The battle against coal in Sri Lanka commenced in 1985, in Trincomalee. However, the first coal power plant at Norochcholai commenced in 2005. We have predicted many environmental and social problems, which have become true in many ways, today,” Withanage said. He said, locating a coal power plant with design defects at Norochcholai, a poor farming community is an environmental injustice. The Ceylon Electricity Board is planning to instal 4,300 MW coal capacity by 2032. The country can produce electricity by climate friendly sources, if the authorities take the leadership, he opined. Central Environmental Authority (CEA) sources said, it has planned to launch an investigation into air pollution caused by the Norochcholai power plant next month. “We will pay attention to the harm caused to marine resources due to the overheating of water,” the sources said.

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