Power, a perennial problem - Former Minister Ravi Karunanayake | Sunday Observer

Power, a perennial problem - Former Minister Ravi Karunanayake

Former Minister Ravi Karunanayake MP
Former Minister Ravi Karunanayake MP

Divergent views on power crisis:

The energy crisis faced by Sri Lanka has been a hot topic for almost two decades now. It emerges from time to time when the Ceylon Electricity Board introduces power cuts mainly due to severe droughts. In the Face to Face segment this week, Former Minister of Power and Energy Ravi Karunanayake and current Minister Mahinda Amaraweera discussed various issues faced by the power sector and the ongoing power crisis in the country.

Q. The blame for the recent power crisis had been laid on your shoulders. It has been alleged the issue has arisen as the former government was not able to add a single new MW of power to the grid. What is your response?

A : I am sad to hear that my successor has put the blame on the past. Instead, he must give the leadership to show that it is a perennial problem caused due to the lack of political will to resolve this issue. The problem is that the engineers at the CEB think they know it all, and the politicians think that they should be making the decisions and the interference of the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) in the process.

As a result, it is the public that often suffers. We must implement a National Policy to resolve the issues. Currently, Sri Lanka needs nearly 19 billion units of electricity. But at present we generate 4100 MW when the need is for 6000 MW. The issue is that we wait for there to be a demand to supply instead of moving towards a power-driven economy. In the past 11 months, I took the initiative to draw up a system to introduce a power-driven economy where there will be surplus power to drive the economy through that. Therefore, I am saddened that a Minister who clearly knows what the inheritance is would make such a remark.

Q. Another allegation is that the planned purchase of power from offshore barges was a corrupt deal. What is your comment?

A:Not a single MW was bought through such a deal. So, then what is the corruption that has taken place? It is easy to sling allegations of corruption. If one attempts to solve any issue you get hammered. In this instance, I wanted to stop generation of power at. Rs. 50 - 60 per unit and replace it with the help of professionals in the field to bring it down to Rs. 17 - 18. Then that resistance comes from a handful of engineers who have now driven this country to absolute disaster.

There is one group who are very passionate and guide us but with 1400 engineers in their fold one must question why they have not been able to resolve this issue for the past 40 years. If one tries to solve the issue then they allege it is corruption but if you do nothing they seem to have no problem with it.

Q.Why has the CEB not been able to pay off its debts to the CEYPETCO even under your leadership?

A: If the Minister rewinds back to the past,during 1994 under the then Minister of Power and Energy, Anuruddha Ratawatte the CEB ran into massive losses and that financial situation has been ongoing.

It shows the lack of will on part of the Ministry of Finance which has not provided the funds. Also the CEB sells one unit at Rs. 16 when the cost of generation is Rs. 23. Thus, there is a loss of Rs. 7 and if you tell the CEB to not increase its prices and claim that the Government will absorb it but not provide the funds to settle its debts what can one expect the CEB to do? During my time as Minister of Finance, we provided the CEB with the funds. But after that things have just gone astray.

Q. Why couldn’t you resolve the conflict between the PUCSL and CEB?

A: In this instance, I must say the PUCSL pokes its finger into everything without giving any professional output. They should take care of the consumer’s interest and not be probing into affairs of the professionally led CEB. The CEB has excellent engineers and their knowledge is superior but they must be controlled to ensure there is no exploitation of the consumer. The PUCSL does the reverse by trying to teach the CEB and neglecting the consumer. I believe action must be taken against PUCSL as they take the agony of the consumer to greater heights.

Q. The PUCSL is said to have not revised electricity tariffs in nearly five years as required. Your comment?

A: That would be an unfair statement on the PUCSL. It is the Government that did not have the guts to say increase the prices. The PUCSL must be defended where required. The politicians must instruct tto increase but show me one politician who would make such a demand.

Q. Do you see any worthy initiatives by the new government to resolve the power crisis?

A: Nothing has been done. It has just been talk by most parties. That is except by the President. I spoke to him to express my concerns on this issue as well.

Q. How would you have addressed the impending power crisis?

A: I told Minister Mahinda Amaraweera that he would have to take action immediately and he would get the fullest support. But it was disregarded. I would say a power barge should be brought in. It is most feasible as there is no manufacturing or installation cost. You only need to sail it in and it will be ready in two months’ time.

It can be connected to the grid in either Colombo, Galle, Hambantota or Trincomalee. The cost would be Rs. 18 - 19 per unit all-inclusive. This would stop production which is costing around Rs. 50 - 60 today. All other forms of power currently cost around Rs. 23. Therefore, this is the first thing that must be done.

Secondly, they must get the coal plants running and LNG plants should also be introduced. The implementation of renewables also must be looked at. 9000 MW will be needed by 2028 and therefore, we must ensure that we have this prepared now. Also generation is not the issue, the CEB does not have enough transmission lines. Generation will be useless if power cannot be transmitted.