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Delay causes massive losses to CEB – II

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Development of renewable energy projects

By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

(First part of this article appeared yesterday)

MINI-HYDRO SYSTEMS

Sri Lanka being blessed with a large number of streams cascading in the hill country, there is high potential to harness this source of energy. In fact, the first mini-hydro plant was built by British planters in tea estates even before the large systems were built. Currently, there are nearly 190 mini-hydro plants with capacity below 10 MW installed in all districts in the hill country with an aggregate capacity of 394 MW as at end of 2018. Their PFs vary between 25% and 55% with only about 10% having PF above 40%. The average price paid for energy from these mini-hydro plants is LKR 14.45 a kWh (CEB S&G Data Book 2018).

The SLSEA Plan has recommended installing additional min-hydro systems with capacity 110 MW by 2025. However, building these plants are not encouraged because of the many adverse impacts they cause to the environment including depriving water to people in downstream, forming puddles which could cause breeding of mosquitoes, affecting fish habitats and general ecology and aesthetics.

DECLINE IN BUILDING

RENEWABLE ENERGY SYSTEMS

It is observed that there has been a decline in the addition of renewable energy (RE) capacity during the past few years. It appears that the CEB has imposed an embargo on their development apparently citing a legal issue. When this matter was brought up at a TV panel discussion some time back, a senior official sitting in the panel representing CEB responded by saying that the applications for building new RE projects were put on hold on Attorney General’s (AG) advice.

The addition of generation capacity into the national grid is governed by the provisions in Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Act, No. 31 Of 2013. Such an Act has been brought in to facilitate the introduction of additional capacity rather than to prevent such addition. If the AG’s ruling for disallowing building of new RE systems is due to any inconsistencies arising out of poor language in the Act or due to difficulty in interpreting its clauses, the Ministry should have taken the initiative to bring in suitable amendments to the Act in consultation with the AG to remove such inconsistencies and remove any conflicting clauses, so that whatever legal issues that prevent addition of new RE capacity could be removed.

INDIA’S OFFER TO BUILD A SOLAR PARK IN SRI LANKA

The Sunday Island of 26.07.2020 carried a news item describing a programme to promote solar energy utilization globally launched by India in collaboration with the Government of France, as a side event at the Climate Change Conference held in Paris in 2015. This programme called the International Solar Alliance (ISA), was established by the Prime Minister of India and the President of France on November 30, 2015, with the objective of scaling up solar energy, reducing the cost of solar power generation through aggregation of demand for solar finance, technologies, innovation, research and development, and capacity building. The ISA aims to pave the way for future solar generation, storage and technologies for member countries’ needs by mobilizing over USD 1000 billion by 2030, according to the India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) website (https://mnre.gov.in/isa/).

The above news report further states that India’s state-run National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Ltd plans to set up a solar energy park in Sri Lanka under the aegis of ISA. It is not known whether India has made a formal communication on this to the Government of Sri Lanka and how the local energy authorities will respond to such an offer. Sri Lanka’s own plans to build solar systems will not exceed 1 GW capacity even by 2025, according to SLSEA Plan. This is far below the installations in India which has reached 34 GW in 2020. Being a member of ISA, Sri Lanka should welcome India’s offer to build a solar park in Sri Lanka under ISA. Under the terms of ISA, India only facilitates sourcing of funding and services and the host country has the ownership for the project, who is required to do the preliminary ground work to seek funding. It is hoped that the local energy utilities will accept this offer.

PROBLEMS FACING IN EXPANDING RE SYSTEMS

When more and more RE systems are built, their integration into the national grid may pose some problems. One is the rapid variation of the output of solar and wind systems. With the development of software that could forecast these variations on-line, it is possible to increase the penetration of RE systems into the grid. If necessary, CEB may acquire this technology from any foreign country who has already implemented high penetration of RE into their system.

Another is the need for storage for saving the electricity generated during the daytime by solar systems for use at night time. Often, what is proposed is to introduce high capacity storage batteries for this purpose. However, with the availability of hydropower reservoirs, a better way to save energy generated by solar systems is to avoid using hydro power during the daytime by an amount equivalent to what is generated by solar system. This saved hydro power is then available for using during night time (see article by Chandre Dharmawardana (CD) in Island of 15.07.2020).

A third problem often cited by CEB is the lack of capacity of the transmission system to accommodate energy generated by RE systems as planned. According to CEB, installing more than 20 MW of wind capacity in any given region may adversely impact local grid stability and power quality (NREL Study, 2003). This problem could be solved by improving the substations in outstations and increasing the capacity of transmission lines connected to them.

A fourth problem, particularly applicable for large scale solar PV systems is the difficulty in identifying suitable land in areas of high solar insolation. Unlike in India, Sri Lanka has limited land available for building solar parks which require nearly 1 ha for every 1 MW of installed capacity. One way to overcome this problem is to utilize the large number of reservoirs available in the country to build solar systems (See CD’s article). As mentioned before, government has already decided to build such a plant with capacity of 100 MW at Madura Oya reservoir.

ACHIEVING 100% DEPENDENCE ON RE SOURCES

If the above impediments which prevent incorporating more RE systems are removed, it will be possible to do away with planned fossil fuel power plants altogether, particularly the coal power plants which cause heavy pollution and achieve 100% penetration of RE systems as found feasible in a report released by ADB/UNDP in 2017. The CEB will then have to discard its current Long-Term Generation Expansion Plan which gives priority for coal power plants and prepare a fresh plan giving priority for RE sources.

Though the cost of coal consumed in a coal power plant may appear cheap and hence given priority in the CEB Plan, when the heavy expenditure on operation and maintenance as well as external costs including cost of damage to the environment and health of people are added, coal power is no longer cheap. A report released by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) in 2017 revealed that “total cost at Puttalam plant is LKR/kWh 18.60, excluding environmental costs and cost of long Transmission lines”. (https://web.pucsl.gov.lk/english/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/brief-anlysis-cost-of-generation-2017.pdf).

Hence, it is desirable if the present and planned coal power plants are replaced with RE plants. If the entire generation from fossil fuels including coal amounting to about 8,400 GWh currently is replaced with RE projects which will cost only LKR 10 per kWh with no cost of externalities, it could save the CEB about LKR 110 billion annually. Hence, sooner it is done, the better it is for the economy of the country.

BENEFITS OF SHIFTING TO

RE SYSTEMS

In addition to financial benefits accrued by shifting to RE systems by avoiding fossil fuel combustion, the country stands to gain several other benefits. One is the avoiding of environmental pollution caused by emission of gaseous pollutants including oxides of Sulphur, oxides of nitrogen, particulates which are health hazards to people. In addition, damage caused to agricultural crops, fisheries habitats and to health of the people by ash accumulated after coal combustion could be avoided.

The other is the avoiding of emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which contributes to global warming and in turn causes climate change. Being a signatory to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Sri Lanka has pledged to reduce carbon dioxide by a specified amount voluntarily. Shifting to RE sources is a convenient way of achieving this target. Sri Lanka is eligible to receive financial benefits for undertaking RE projects in view of the saving of carbon emissions, which the government should pursue by submitting suitable project proposals to the Climate Change Secretariat.

CONCLUSION

The private sector has taken the initiative to build many RE projects up to 2017 generating altogether 1,830 GWh of energy in 2018, which amounts to 11.9% of the total generation of 15,374 GWh (CEB SD 2018). However, there has been a decline in RE development in recent years apparently due to a legal impediment which needs rectification immediately. Power was purchased from unsolicited RE projects built initially at rates valid for 20 years which have been overpriced compared to rates offered for new RE projects based on competitive bids. By expediting shifting to RE projects as planned up to 2025, government stands to save around LKR 43 billion annually.

If the present generation of 8,400 GWh from fossil fuel combustion is replaced with RE sources, it could save CEB around LKR 110 billion annually. To realize this, Government should raise the upper limit of 10 MW for building RE projects by the private sector, enabling it to undertake larger RE projects. Sri Lanka should make an effort to secure financial assistance from Climate Funds to shift from proposed fossil fuel generation altogether in the future moving away for more RE generation integrated into the system.

 



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Opinion

Ragging, human rights and Aragalaya

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In Sri Lanka, there are two enduring issues that annoy all those who detest blatant use of ‘institutionalised’ repression, as it were. The first is the torturing of the new entrants to universities, which is customarily called “ragging”, which conveniently camouflages its perverseness behind a mask of pseudo-intellectuality. The other is the abuse of power by our so-called representatives to amass fabulous wealth, engaging in every form of corruption with impunity and resorting to strong-arm tactics when the public come to the streets to voice their discontent- all behind a façade of democracy.

For the raggers, the confines of the campus provide immunity to harass the hapless newcomers at will. Our politicians rattle off the mantra of “law and order!” to make any of their excesses appear legitimate and get the people to toe the line. Now, the raggers have taken their cue from our politicians and chant “human rights!” to defend ragging! They are now asserting their right to rag without being videoed! Believe it or not, they are scandalised by anyone who dares film their harassing the freshers. “How dare you do it without our permission? Do you know you are violating our ‘Human Rights’?”

Tigers might as well talk about their right to kill deer. All tigers unequivocally agree that they have that right; their claws have made the “Deer’s Rights”, i.e. to live unharmed, to enjoy freedom of movement, not to be killed, totally irrelevant. So the rights of the new entrants to start their academic life happily in a pleasant and peaceful environment without being persecuted by a depraved gang of so called ‘human rights warriors’, go the same as the rights of deer to live without being mauled by the ‘rights conscious’ tigers in the jungle.

Here, we have the Aragalaya– a union of many sections of society including the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF). The IUSF itself is said to be composed of students with different political affiliations. They seem to have shed their differences to be a vibrant part of the Aragalaya– fighting tooth and nail against the excesses of a regime bent on using strong-arm tactics to stifle dissent- which has been facing stiff resistance from the police and the armed forces, in addition to being the victims of goon attacks as it happened on May 9, at two agitation sites in Colombo. The point is, aren’t the raggers in universities, who are bullying the hapless new entrants, aware of the thousands of their colleagues participating in the Aragalaya against state repression are seriously undermining the authenticity of the latter, by their acts of barbarity? Can they be so loutish as to act as if they are living on another planet?

Let’s come to the more hilarious part of the raggers’ concern for their own ‘human right’ to rag without the inconvenience of being filmed by concerned onlookers. They not only protest against their being videoed without their permission but they also display their brilliance by asking some profoundly disturbing questions like- whether the ‘busybody’ had ever bothered to film how they had suffered in life, how they had managed to make ends meet, under what taxing conditions they had studied, how much their parents had sacrificed to educate them, etc. No, the nonplussed voluntary-cameraman had not lived up to their expectations! Having successfully snubbed him for failing in his ‘duty as a concerned citizen’, they demand that the ‘busybody’ delete what he has recorded.

What defies comprehension is the total lack of empathy of these self-proclaimed ‘human rights activists’ with the pitiful condition of their victims. Haven’t the new entrants come from the same land of woes? Haven’t they experienced the same deprivations which the raggers claim they had experienced? Do they expect to exorcise the consequences of inept politics by terrifying the newcomers? What kind of perversity drives them to traumatise their own younger brothers and sisters, who had already been equally victimized by an unjust system against which thousands of their own colleagues fight on the streets?

Aragalaya

activists, including the IUSF, have never protested against the numerous instances of their being harassed- being teargased, pounded by water cannons and manhandled by law-enforcement officers and also wanton attacks by thugs. In fact, using cellphones to capture any instance of harassment or even any intervention by the police, for instance, for traffic offences, has become an established practice. After all, it is strong evidence that can be used by the ‘victim’ when resorting to legal action.

Usually, it is not the victims- it is the tormentors who are worried about being captured by cameras and cellphones. The video footage on the now famous Mihintale Sermon showed some government VIPs, caught in an unexpected tragicomic misadventure, making valiant efforts to appear nonchalant- even affable, but squirming in their seats all the while. Today, cellphone has become the sworn enemy of those who feel guilty of what they are doing. If the raggers are so pious, they should encourage their being videoed instead of crying foul.

All these years the raggers have had no reason to pretend to be serious about human rights because they had been so well-organized to make them irrelevant. However, now cellphones have become the most useful companion of the vulnerable in society, in its potential role of being an “eyewitness” of any excesses. In a twist of irony, today raggers, who have thus far managed to thwart all efforts to neutralise this barbaric practice, have been outraged by being videoed in action. After all, the cellphone is becoming a liberating agent in our troubled paradise. Ragging should be condemned as a shameful relic of a barbaric civilisation. It can have no justification in a society fighting against all forms of depravity, injustice and suppression. The raggers must be sternly told that all that nonsense about building fellowship, ‘guiding’ the ‘novices’ and the rest can only expose their lack of rudimentary civility and sophistication.

Susantha Hewa

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Opinion

Now is payback time

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Some thoughts about electricity bills of religious places

BY Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

News this week that the electricity bill of a temple has increased from Rs 58,000 to Rs 300,00 per month, shows the weaknesses in the pricing structure that prevailed for decades, and the weakness that is propagated into the future by the new price structure announced from August 10th.

Year 2015 is the last year in which electricity prices approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) almost matched with the costs approved by the same PUC. Since then, the gap between costs and prices has been widening. So, in 2015, the national average price was Rs 16.84 per unit of electricity. For a retail customer like a temple, church or a house, the cost is about 20% more than national average cost. Why? Because they are retail customers. So, retail customers should have been charged Rs 20 per unit of electricity since 2015.

However, owing to the decades-old practice of providing subsidies to various customer groups through the electricity bill, temples, churches, kovils were required to pay only Rs 9.40 per unit. That explains why lights are hardly ever switched off in many such premises!

So, while costs increased year by year, partly owing genuine increase of expenses, electricity prices were not increased. Increased costs were partly because of loading energy suppliers with more and more employees, and partly owing to decisions on not to build various power plants (do remember the politicians and others who delayed and cancelled Sampur, Norochcholai No 4, Kerawalapitiya and more recently, numerous wind, solar, hydro power plants) that would have produced cheaper electricity.

Count if you can, the number of times the PUC and energy ministers have boasted that they will not allow prices to be increased. Now is the payback time for that short-lived comfort. According to the electricity act, the Minister has nothing to do with electricity pricing.

So, coming back to the temple in question, to be billed Rs 58,000 each month in July, the consumption at Rs 9.40 per unit should have been about 6,200 units of electricity per month. Sri Lanka’s national average household use of electricity (typically for a household of 4 persons) is 78 units per month. So, the temple in question has used an amount of electricity used by 80 households or 320 people. It appears that commercial-scale activities may be taking place in this religious premises.

If that is the case, the temple should have requested the commercial sector electricity pricing of Rs 22.85 per unit. Then the monthly bills since 2014 until July 2022 would not have been Rs 58,000 but Rs 141,000 per month. If the temple remains “religious”, at the new price of Rs 65.00 per unit, the new bill is most likely to be about Rs 401,000, which is higher than Rs 300,000 stated in the media. So, the temple should expect a higher bill in September !

However, if the temple declares that it is “commercial”, the electricity bill will be about Rs 197,000 even after the increase.

Be that as it may, for religious or whatever customer, increasing prices from Rs 9.40 to Rs. 65.00 per unit in one go, has never been heard of. Pricing reforms are welcome but it is the PUC’s job to smoothen the price increases. Looking back at the “public consultation” in June 2022, CEB proposed the prices for high-user religious customers to be increased from Rs 9.40 to Rs 19.00. It appears PUC increased it to Rs 65.00 per unit. Was it a mistake ? A typo ?

The bottom line is that everybody is asking for subsidies, while no one likes to contribute to subsidies. If everybody is required to pay what it costs to supply, nothing more, nothing less, the electricity bill of the temple would have been Rs 163,000 until July and Rs 236,000 from August onward. Still a hefty increase, but a rational distribution of costs among the customers.

Surely, there will be requirements to support specific religious premises and indeed other types of customers, too. That is the job of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the respective Ministries, not of the CEB and LECO. Now that it appears the politicians have let go their seven-decade old habit of interfering in electricity pricing decisions, what is required now is a strong, professional, respected PUC, which know its subject, to use the stick and bring the costs down. These costing and pricing anomalies are not of recent origin, but they need solutions.

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Rendezvous with Patrick and Diplomacy

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Visiting the University of Sri Jayewardenepura with Prof. Patrick Mendis (left) and the writer’s wife, Jayantha.

Illustrious Alumnus of Sri J’pura Wins the Lifetime Achievement Award in the United States

by Dr. Sunil Nawaratne

The Sri Lanka Foundation in California has selected Prof. Patrick Mendis for its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award among Sri Lankan professionals living overseas. He is among the youngest to receive this honour for his distinguished academic career, award-winning diplomatic service, and philanthropic activities in the United States and Sri Lanka.

Prof. Patrick Mendis is widely known to thousands of alumni and educators for his eponymous annual financial prize at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. In the United States, he has also established scholarships for students at the University of Minnesota and Harvard—two of his other alma maters.

Patrick and I are alumni of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Over the years, we have stayed connected, crossed our paths during my postgraduate studies in Japan, and often got together with our friends and alumni whenever he visited his family in Sri Lanka.

In the late 1970s, Patrick won a highly selective American Field Service (AFS) scholarship to study at Perham High School in Minnesota. Upon graduating with a U.S. diploma, Patrick returned to attend the University of Sri Jayewardenepura where we first met in the early 1980s.

He earned the coveted First Class Honours degree in Bachelor of Science from the Faculty of Management Studies and Commerce. As he completed his secondary education in the United States, Patrick often sought counsel and guidance from his Canadian and American Fulbright professors who visited our university. These visiting professors offered him scholarships for postgraduate studies in Canada and the United States. But Patrick returned to his AFS family in Minnesota, which he proudly considers his “birthplace” in America.

Minnesota is one of the coldest and snowiest among the 50 states; the tropical Sri Lanka by comparison is one-third the size of this beautiful “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Patrick evidently fell in love with “Minnesota Nice,” as he described the generosity of its industrious and gentle people.

Patrick progressed to work at the Minnesota House of Representatives. He later received the Hubert Humphrey fellowship and the Notre Dame scholarship to complete his master’s and doctoral degrees at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the University of Minnesota.

While teaching at the University of Minnesota in the early 1990s, Patrick endowed two annual scholarships at Sri J’pura. These scholarships were later combined into the Dr. Patrick Mendis Prize to reflect his own outstanding achievements in management studies, leadership accomplishments in sports, and numerous contributions to the World University Service as its president in Sri Lanka. Patrick would explain that the annual prize is a fulfilling way to give back and to inspire the next generation of leaders and managers to do things better than he did.

In the subsequent years, I focused on my career in the fields of business management, government service, and higher education in Sri Lanka while Patrick ventured into international diplomacy, teaching, and conducting research at Harvard, Oxford, Yale, and other universities. At Harvard, he finished his mid-career Executive Leadership Programme at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. As a visiting faculty member, he later returned to serve as a Rajawali senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and a research associate of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard.

More importantly, however, Patrick blended his academic pursuits with public service in the United States government, the World Bank, and the United Nations.

While studying in Minnesota, the government of Sri Lanka appointed Patrick to the United Nations as its first Youth Ambassador to represent Sri Lanka at the First UN International Year of the Youth (IYY) in New York. Ambassador Karunasena Kodituwakku, then the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, recommended Patrick to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, then the Minister of Education. For his leadership at the United Nations, the UN Secretary General honored him with the UN Medal for the IYY.

Patrick began his American government service in the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the Ronald Reagan administration. Congressman Gerry Connolly, a former Senate colleague and now his congressional representative from Virginia, writes: “Dr. Patrick Mendis is a highly respected foreign policy scholar, an award-winning public servant, and American diplomat. Patrick and I served in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

After government service, he returned to academia. Patrick then served as a distinguished senior fellow and affiliate professor of public and international affairs at the Schar School of Policy and Government at the George Mason University in Virginia. While serving as the Vice President of the Osgood Centre for International Studies and a visiting foreign policy scholar at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, he authored books, published articles, and lectured on UN affairs.

At the U.S. Department of State, he was assigned to serve as the chairman of the interagency policy group on science and technology in the Bill Clinton administration. Under the George Bush administration, the late Secretary of State Colin Powell appointed him to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as its secretariat director to manage the Fulbright, Humphrey, and other international exchange programmes. Patrick also served as an advisor to the United States Delegations to the United Nations.

During the Barack Obama administration, Patrick was appointed as a Commissioner to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO at the Department of State. His tenure ended when the Donald Trump administration withdrew from the UN.

United States Senator Chris Van Hollen, who grew up in Sri Lanka but now represents Maryland, describes his friend: “Patrick has contributed years of dedicated service to our country, and has been recognised for his academic achievements, outstanding government career, and important philanthropic work.”

During his service at the Department of State, Patrick also taught MBA courses at the University of Maryland. Through the University of Maryland Global Campus, Patrick previously worked as a military professor in the NATO and the Indo-Pacific Commands of the Pentagon with a range of teaching tours in England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, South Korea, and Turkey.

After returning to Washington, D.C., Patrick has also worked in various federal agencies in the United States government.

Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, a former presidential candidate, explains her fellow Minnesotan this way: “Dr. Mendis is a respected leader and award-winning public servant, teacher, and diplomat” who has served in “the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Defense, and State.”

Over the years, the University of Minnesota has recognised Patrick with the Alumnus of Notable Achievement (ANA) Award, the Harold Stassen Award for UN Affairs, and the Hubert Humphrey Leadership Award. The Minnesota Magazine described the illustrious American as “a scholar and a diplomat” for his leadership in government service. Patrick was honored with the Benjamin Franklin Award by the U.S. Department of States and the USDA Graduate School

Award for Leadership and Service by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Patrick has worked in—and travelled to—more than 130 countries. His lifetime achievements are yet to come. Patrick is currently serving as a distinguished visiting professor of transatlantic relations at the University of Warsaw in Poland as well as a distinguished visiting professor of global affairs at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan. He is a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science.

Patrick has also lectured at the Sir John Kotelawala Defence University and other Sri Lankan universities in Colombo, Jaffna, Kelaniya, and Sri Jayewardenepura.

As highlighted in this narrative, it is truly a distinct honour to have such an eminent alumnus as a steadfast friend in the United States. His American journey from Sri Lanka has indeed shown us the value of education and the power of diplomacy beyond national boundaries for a better world for all of us.

*Dr. Sunil Nawaratne, an alumnus of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, is the Director-General of the National Institute of Education and a former permanent secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education in Sri Lanka.

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