Breakdowns are so frequent that the Norochcholai plant has acquired the name “always out of order”. Sri Lanka’s first-ever coal-fired power station, built by the Chinese and located in Norochcholai, has become almost synonymous with blackouts since its inception in 2011.
Outages are numerous and a large portion of the country’s electricity consumers experience power outages quite frequently. Coal-fired electricity generators are often shut down for repairs more than they are functional.
The then Minister of Power and Energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka, rightly pointed out that Sri Lanka should have chosen a more advanced system than the Chinese technology, often derisively described as “always failing”. “.
In 2012, the minister admitted that there had been design and technology problems in the Chinese-built Norochcholai coal-fired power project, which ostensibly added to the losses of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Minister Ranawaka said the delay in starting the project initially deprived Sri Lanka of getting advanced Japanese technology for the project, eventually deciding to follow Chinese technology.
We didn’t get it at the right time, or in the best place, or with the best technology. ” -he said somewhere in 2012.
“We have a design problem and the unit is too big,” Ranawaka explained. In the event of a breakdown, the cooling time reaches 15-16 days. “The CEB, the Chinese company and the consultants who approved it should all be held accountable,” he said.
“We were expecting 1,500 Gwh, but they only gave us 1,000, forcing us to get the rest from Diesel,” he added. The idea of setting up a coal-fired power station was first discussed and planned during the period of President JR Jayewardene in 1985.
At the time, authorities were considering three sites: Mawella in Matara, Oluwil in Ampara and Puttlam. However, due to pressure from various quarters and environmental concerns, President Jayewardene was hesitant to give the green light for the project to go ahead.
Once again in 1995, the Ceylon Electricity Board proposed the establishment of a coal-fired power station in 1995 during the period of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, but started construction of the facility in 2007 after President Mahinda Rajapaksa took office as president in 2005.
The power station was named Lakvijaya coal-fired power station, but is more commonly referred to as Norochcholai coal-fired power station. The exact locations are Narakkali and Penaiyadi near Norochcholai in Puttalam district on the west coast of the Kalpitiya peninsula.
It was built in 3 phases and completed in September 2014, with a total power generation capacity of 900 MW. According to available figures, the first phase of the coal-fired power plant was commissioned in March 2011 in line with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s policy to realize his Mahinda Chinthana vision of providing power to all by 2012.
The grand ceremony of adding 300 MW of coal-fired electricity to the national grid took place on March 22 in the year 2012.
The first stage of this coal plant, inaugurated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, incurred a cost of 455 million dollars. The Ministry of Power and Energy said that financing for this project was provided by the Chinese government at a low long-term interest rate to the Sri Lankan government. The construction work was carried out by China Machinery Engineering Company, CMEC China.
The company is part of the China National Machinery Industry Corporation group of companies. CMEC’s specialization is listed as the construction of energy projects in generation, transmission and distribution.
As a local component of the investment, the Sri Lankan government has invested Rs. 5300 million for the first stage. As part of the first stage of the project, fuel combustion was carried out at the site on 2010.11.17.
Eighty families who lost their property and were displaced during the 1st stage of construction received houses built on 20 poles, with drinking water, electricity and all other basic facilities, as well as roads and kindergartens were built while the main Puttalam Kalpitiya road was widened to 40 feet. In addition, 200 acres were provided to these families for cultivation. This coal-fired plant provided a solution to the country’s electricity problems, but at the same time the project caused massive environmental damage. Nevertheless, many measures have been taken to mitigate its effects.
The Catholic community in the region is protesting against the difficulties it faces as a result of the project. They raised several issues including environmental issues and issues that may arise from time to time regarding their livelihood, fishing.
The Catholic Bishop of Chilaw has made several representations to the government and organized protest demonstrations against the construction of the power station. The government has shown some flexibility in pursuing the matter further and in discussion with the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Chilaw. At the same time, the government insisted on continuing the project and launched the first-ever coal-fired power generation project to cushion the supply shortfall that may arise in the future.
The Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL), together with three affected community members (a fisherman and two farmers) from Norochcholai, filed a human rights complaint which claimed the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court on August 22, 2016, against the only coal-fired power plant. in Sri Lanka. This case involved the operation of the Norochcholai coal-fired power station because it has serious repercussions on health, the economy and the environment, in violation of several provisions of the Constitution, in particular article 12 (right to equal protection of the law), Article 14(1)(g) (right to occupation) and Article 14(1)(h) (right to choose residence and freedom of movement). In addition, the EFL petition argues that NCPP’s operations are contrary to Sri Lanka’s international obligations to reduce emissions and protect the environment, as stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention. United Nations on Climate Change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and others.
NCPP has serious and irreversible impacts on the health, safety and livelihoods of surrounding communities and causes irreparable damage to the environment, both on land and at sea. -itself is toxic and burning coal releases greenhouse gases and toxins. Coal combustion produces residues such as fly ash (generated by burning coal), bottom ash (deposited in the system) and boiler slag. These materials are dangerous both for human health and for the environment because they contain heavy metals such as mercury and radioactive nucleoids.
The impacts of the coal-fired power plant not only affect those living in its immediate vicinity, but also pose a threat of harm to future generations.
The EFL case was brought on 05.07.2019 before the Court of Appeal. The petitioners were prepared to support the case for interim measures. The case was heard again on October 14, 2019, and the judges ordered the parties to seek a settlement and to ensure that there were several meetings between the parties to try to resolve the issues. The terms of settlement of this case were prepared and filed by the Attorney General’s Department, for which EFL filed submissions on behalf of the plaintiffs and attended a meeting convened by the Attorney General’s Department to consider a settlement. . However, with the exception of the Ministry of Christian and Religious Affairs, none of the other respondents were present. As a result, it has been decided that the case will be argued, which was requested on December 3, 2019. The case was argued on 02.07.2020 and the case is reserved for trial on 25.09.2020. The case was pleaded on 02.07.2020 and the judgment was delivered by the Court of Appeal on 25.09.2020. The Court of Appeal granted the respondents’ preliminary objection and dismissed the application.
The Norochcholai Coal Power Plan addressed power generation issues to a greater extent, but environmental and other issues remained, posing serious challenges to the community’s livelihoods.
On top of all this, the outages have caused a major hiccup in power distribution and current maintenance issues, and currently the outages are resulting in longer power outages mandated by the Ceylon Electricity Board.
In the meantime, the government was considering setting up another 300 MW coal-fired power station at Norochcholai to overcome the impending energy crisis in the country. This decision was made after they took office in 2020.
Former Minister of Power and Energy under Rajapaksa’s regime, Patali Champika Ranawaka, called it a national crime for the problems it entails. Mr Ranawaka told a press briefing that the project is a crime due to environmental impact and other technical issues.
“The Cabinet had decided to award the contract for the construction of this new power station to the same company which set up the Lakvijaya plant in Norochcholai.
The previous Norochcholai power station had failed to produce the contracted amount of electricity of 200 MW. One wonders how the contracted company was able to build a 300MW power plant when it failed to deliver the promised capacity of the previous power plant,” Mr Ranawaka said, raising a very valid point to meditate.
He pointed out that the existing lines do not have enough capacity to carry more electricity. He also said that the government had decided to award the contract to the same company that built the Lakvijaya power plant without issuing new tenders. He also said that in the absence of a real environmental impact study, it would be dangerous to embark on such a project which tends to emit green gases into the environment, entailing risks for the health.