Lack of professionalism in engineers’ protest against the new power plan says EFL


In a letter to the Minister of Power and Renewable Energy Ranjith Siyambalapitiya on Thursday, 27 July the, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Engineers’ Union (EU) has demanded the urgent intervention of the minister to get the CEB to facilitate the unhindered procurement of future power plants as per its Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan (LCLTGEP). Extracts of this letter was published in the media, in a press article, which reported that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Engineers’ Union (EU) allegedly levelled several allegations against the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) in respect of its decision to reject the CEB’s Long Term Generation Expansion (LTGE) Plan and recommending an alternative Plan comprising natural gas operated power plants in place of coal power plants as proposed by the CEB. Among these allegations are:

1. PUCSL lacks people of proven caliber who will function objectively and in a professional manner.

2. PUCSL has no discretionary powers to amend the submitted plan on its own.

3. PUCSL’s action in approving the LCLTGEP 2018-2037 of the CEB is totally unsatisfactory.

The concerns raised by CEB in the said letter, that PUCSL is not staffed by "people of proven caliber who will function objectively and in a professional manner", is a matter of dispute taking into consideration the fact that the recommendation made by the PUSCL, balances the health and safety of the very people whose energy demands are being met with the LCLTGEP 2018-2037. This decision boasts of the holistic approach by the PUCSL as opposed to the short sighted approach of this concentrated group of highly respected professionals making these allegations. Further to this, the CEBEU states that they "had no other option but to resort to trade union action to safeguard their membership and the sector from such individuals". One wonders why the CEBEU as a trade union feels their membership will get affected when decisions are being made to humanize the issue and for the betterment of the community as a whole? Further, shouldn’t the CEB as a government institution fall in line with the government policy which has been announced by the President himself.

It is accepted that professionals express an opinion supported by scientific facts and giving sound reasoning in rejecting and/or accepting the opinion of another. Therefore one would expect the CEBEU to also reveal as to why they reject this decision of the PUCSL, without resorting to levelling allegations against a parallel public institution in what reeks strongly of prejudice.

The press release claims that the PUCSL has not acted according to the provisions in the Electricity Acts. But the fact is that it is the CEB who has violated the provisions in the Electricity Act in preparing its LTGE Plan. The Amended Electricity Act No. 31 of 2013 says "For the purpose of this section- "Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan" means a plan prepared by the transmission licensee and amended and approved by the Commission on the basis of the submissions made by the licensees and published by the Commission, indicating the future electricity generating capacity requirements determined on the basis of least economic cost".

The CEB’s LTGE Plan has been prepared based on the cost of production incorporating the amortized capital cost, operation & maintenance costs and fuel cost only. There is no economic component taken into account, obviously because being engineers, CEB staff may not have any knowledge of economics to prepare a Plan based on least "economic" cost. Hence, before protesting against the PUCSL Plan, the least the CEB EU could do at this stage is to consult an economist and find out how to include "economic" cost into their equation. Since the draft Plan submitted by CEB to the PUCSL does not conform to the country’s law as it is not based on least "economic" cost, it is not legal and no one can enforce it.

The bottom line is that when the economic component is added, the least cost option shifts from coal power to gas power. If the CEBEU opposes to gas power for future generation for whatever the reasons, they should come out with it giving valid reasons as professionals, without threatening to strike if their demand for coal power plants to be constructed is not accepted with open arms by everyone else in the country!

Environmental Foundation Limited and the Energy Experts Team

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