Connect with us


Matters COPE overlooked



Norochcholai coal-fired power plant probe:

By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

The Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has said at a meeting of COPE, held on Tuesday, (24th) in Parliament, that the entire country is affected by the Norochcholai coal power plant (CPP). This was reported in several print media, including The Island of 26.11.2020. He has further said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) must also be involved in assessing its impacts as issues created by the power plant, for example air pollution, has an impact on the entire country, without leaving it in the hands of the Environmental Authority of the Provincial Council of the North Western Province (NWP) alone.



The three CPPs at Norochcholai were burning a little over 2 Mt of coal, annually, during 2016 – 2019, as reported in the CEB Annual Statistical Digests. Assuming that the ash content, in coal, is 16%, which is the maximum permissible limit, the three CPPs generate about 300,000 t of ash, annually. Out of this, about 20% is collected at the bottom as bottom ash and the rest is directed into the stacks. After getting filtered in the stack, the balance is released into the atmosphere as fly ash. Therefore, over the life time of a CPP, they jointly will release over 8 Mt of fly ash.

The Chairman has said that about 6.58 Mt of fly-ash is already stored in the premises. He also said that LKR 26 million was spent annually to spray water on the fly-ash to prevent their dispersion. In response to many complaints received from the public of loss of livelihood among farmers and fishermen, due to deposition of ash on agriculture land and sea, the CEB is planning to construct a wind barrier 1,200 m long and 15 m high to prevent wind blowing away the fly ash into neighbouring areas, at a cost of Rs. 724 million, which was approved by the Cabinet on 19.01.2018. There have been complaints from the CEB staff, at the plant site itself, of increased respiratory ailments among them due to high levels of air pollution within the premises. A public-interest organization has, in fact, filed a law suit against the CEB, demanding measures to be taken to reduce pollution by the CPP.

Coal ash is said to contain many toxic heavy metals, such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, zinc as well as radio-active material, according to overseas literature. With nearly a decade of existence, the CEB has not made any effort to get the coal and ash analyzed to find out the actual amounts of these toxic metals present in them and how they depend on the source of coal. Adequate analytical facilities are available in the country for this purpose. What is lacking is a drive.



In view of the heavy mercury pollution caused by an industry which had released mercury compounds into the Bay of Minamata in Japan many years ago, and the subsequent adverse impacts it caused on the health of people who consumed fish caught from the Bay, the Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted in October 2013 and entered into force on the 16th August 2017, with a view to phase out Mercury emissions world-wide. It is interesting to note that it had taken over 10 years for the UN to take this preventive measure since first detection of neurological diseases among the affected people. Sri Lanka is a Party to this Convention and is therefore obliged to comply with it. The Parties agreed to collect data on the prevalence of Mercury in their countries and its impacts, to begin with.

In response, a local study was undertaken within the fishing community in Puttalam. The study revealed the presence of high levels of Mercury in women’s hair, attributed to regular consumption of fish containing high concentrations of Mercury (Sri Lanka J. Aquat. Sci. 23(2) (2018): 179-186) released by the CPP. Among the harmful effects that can be passed from the mother to the foetus include neurological impairment, IQ loss, and damage to the kidneys and cardiovascular system. At high levels of mercury exposure this can lead to brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures and the inability to speak.

Another global study undertaken for the same purpose, found that in Puttalam, the Mercury content in the hair of women living near the lagoon was significantly elevated, with a mean of 2.74ppm ± 2.8ppm. Of great concern is that 50% of the women had a level that exceeded 2 ppm Hg and 13% exceeded 4 ppm Hg. “Of all women who participated in the sampling, 77% had a body burden of mercury exceeding the 1ppm reference level”. ( Regrettably, the COPE members appeared to be unaware of this problem, even though it was given publicity in local media recently.



The COPE has, however, shown concern about the accumulation of high volume of ash at the CPP. CEB officials have responded by saying that efforts are being made to use coal ash in the manufacture of bricks and the matter had ended there. What the CEB officials did not tell the COPE was that bricks are already being manufactured and used in construction work. For example, the headquarters building of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) was constructed recently using these bricks. See

The question is how safe is coal fly ash for the manufacture of bricks used in the construction of dwellings. The reason is because fly ash contains high amounts of radioactive nuclides which can get distributed country-wide if bricks are made out of coal ash. In a study undertaken by the Nuclear Science Department of the Colombo University, coal and ash sampled from the Norochcholai plant were found to contain radionuclides of Uranium, Thorium and Potassium, according to a paper presented at the Annual Session of SLAAS in 2013. The radio-activity of these substances is given in the Table, according to which coal from South Africa was found to contain Uranium and Thorium levels significantly above the global averages.

It is desirable if the CEB, therefore, undertakes two studies before they start manufacturing these bricks on a large scale. One is to determine the concentrations of radio-active nuclides present in coal and coal ash, with samples originating from different countries. The second is to carry out a survey on the ambient radio activity in buildings constructed with bricks manufactured from fly ash. The CEB could outsource these studies to institutions generally undertaking such assignments. It is important that the findings of these studies are made public.



The COPE Chairman has said at the COPE meeting that air pollution from the Norochcholai CPP has an impact on the entire country. In a CPP, various gaseous emissions, such as Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate Matter (PM) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are generated during combustion of coal. These are first sent through filters to capture the excessive amounts of SO2 and PM and the balance released into air. The captured particulate matter is stored as fly ash. This filtering equipment fitted in the stacks include a Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) unit to reduce SO2 emissions and Electrostatic Precipitators (ESP) or Fabric Filters to reduce PM emissions. However, they can reduce only a certain fraction of emissions and their efficiency declines with time, particularly under coastal environments. It is also reported that these pieces of equipment sometimes breakdown resulting in the entire pollutants generated getting released into air.

The emissions released into the atmosphere get dispersed within the airshed covering the North Western and North Central Provinces, the extent and quantity depending on the wind pattern which varies hourly, daily and seasonally. During the SE monsoon period, prevailing winds blow interior and the possibility

of emissions reaching the Western and Eastern Provinces cannot be ruled out. These emissions, after getting transported over a certain distance depending on the wind regime, get deposited back on the ground adding to their concentration at ground level generally referred to as the Ambient Air Quality (AAQ).



The CEA has published Regulations in the Gazette announcing stack emission standards (SES) for power plants and also on AAQ standards. In respect of stack emissions, the regulations say that “any person who fails to comply with the above regulations, shall be liable to an offence under the National Environmental Act, No. 47 of 1980”.

The Regulations on SES were published in the Gazette Notification dated 05.06.2019 specifying maximum permissible levels of SO2, NO2, PM and smoke. These values are given in the SES in units of mg/Nm3 (Normal cubic metres). Their conversion in to other useful forms such as parts per million (ppm) or mg/GJ or mg/kWh needs certain assumptions to be made on the fuel quality and plant efficiency. The CEB claims that they monitor the stack emissions on all pollutants regularly using remotely operated sensors but this information is not made public.

The Regulations on AAQ Standards were published in the Gazette Notification, dated 15.08.2008, specifying maximum permissible concentrations of several pollutants including Carbon Monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), SO2, NO2, PM2.5 and PM10 present in ambient air. The last two refer to particulates with diameter 2.5 micro metres and 10 micro metres, respectively. The measurements are to be averaged over periods of 1 hour, 8 hours and 24 hours and carried out according to methods specified in the Regulations.

According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the original CPP project, at least two permanent AAQ monitoring stations need to be installed in Puttalam area, and data displayed in public places. The writer believes this has not been done. The CEB has assigned a contract to the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) in 2018 to monitor AAQ around Puttalam using ITI’s new mobile facility. ITI had done the AAQ measurements covering all seasons (Personal communication), but the data is not available in public domain, despite the condition laid down in the EIA. The COPE Chairman should have inquired as to whether the CPP complies with these two sets of standards, SES and AAQ and if not, the reasons.



The COPE Chairman also has directed the CEA to get involved in overseeing the operation of the Norochcholai CPP without leaving it in the hands of the Environment Authority of NWPC. This Authority has wide powers according to its statute, according to which all prescribed projects that are being undertaken in the NWP by any Government or private institution or an individual will be required to obtain approval under this Statute for such prescribed projects. It is noteworthy that out of all Provincial Councils, only the NW Provincial Council has established its own Environmental Authority.

In the event the Minister assigns a different project approving agency, such agency will have to grant approval for a project only with the concurrence of the Provincial Authority. Hence, it is a question whether NWP Environment Authority (EA) will listen to CEA, because it is not bound to do it according to its statute. The CEB Chairman has said at the COPE meeting that the EIA study for the new CPP would be done jointly by CEA and EA of NWP. Actually, there is no need to spend millions of Rupees on EIA studies when it is obvious that a CPP causes heavy pollution while clean alternative options are available.

What generally happens in an EIA is that various measures are pledged to minimize impacts on which the EIA is approved, but there is no guarantee the pledges are kept once the project is implemented. Sometimes, projects are given approval subject to certain conditions, but these conditions are not published, which tantamount to giving an open approval. What is important is to select projects that do not intrinsically generate pollution.

One would expect such a powerful body like EA of NCP to maintain a website giving information on projects being considered by the Authority, projects that have been granted approval. Also, in the case of Norochcholai CPP, the environment data being collected by the CPP should also need to be posted in the website for the information of the public. But the Writer found no such site when searched in the Google. The data are not even posted in the CEB website which posts all other data such as generation and sales data promptly in its website.



The Cabinet, on 22.01.2020, granted approval for the construction of two 300 MW CPPs as an extension to the existing CPP at Norochcholai, together with construction of two 300 MW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plants operating with natural gas, one jointly by CEB and India/Japan, and the other with funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The CEB Chairman, however, confirmed only the construction of two CPPs at the COPE meeting and not the construction of two 300 MW gas power plants already approved by the Cabinet. He said that according to the long-term plan of the Norochcholai CPP, a 300 MW (coal) plant was to be added to the complex by 2023 and a further 300 MW (coal) plant by 2026. According to the CEB Draft Plan for 2020-39, two more 300 MW CPPs are to be built within this decade.

Though the Cabinet had granted approval for building CPPs in January, later the Cabinet granted approval again for including the first CPP as a project to be carried out urgently as a post-COVID activity. This means that the CPP could be selected and purchased without going through the normal procurement procedure, despite the fact that the cost of a 300 MW CPP could exceed LKR 80 billion. Naturally, everyone is eyeing to take control of this purchase because of the many benefits amounting to millions if not billions of Rupees that would get transacted. Building a CPP has no relation to COVID for it to be included as a post-COVID activity. It is only an unethical way of circumventing the tender procedure. It is surprising why the learned COPE members did not see through this unethical practice and question the CEB Chairman.

Gas power plants (GPP) are also included in the CEB’s latest long-term plan for 2020-39, meaning they are acceptable as low-cost options to be added to the grid. In addition to the two-gas fired 300 MW GPPs approved by the Cabinet at the January meeting, the Cabinet has earlier granted approval for building a 300 MW GPP on BOOT basis at Kerawalapitiya by Lakdhanavi for which proposals were called in 2016 November and the award finalized now.

According to media reports, however, the Attorney General’s Department is trying to hold it back citing some shortcomings in the tender documents issued 4 years ago, but the Minister of Power wants to pursue it despite AG’s objections. Had this tender evaluated within a year as indicated in the tender documents without CEB dragging it for 4 years, the country would have had the benefit of a 300 MW of clean energy supply by now. The COPE should have inquired about this long delay from the CEB.



A CPP is more complex than a CCGT plant and requires several days of waiting for a plant to be energized after an unannounced shut down, whereas a CCGT Plant could be energized within a matter of a few hours. The CEB still depends on Chinese technicians to maintain and operate the Norochcholai CPP even after a decade of its operation. A CPP can function only as a base-load plant whereas a CCGT Plant can function both as a base-load and a peak-load plant. This is another matter that COPE members overlooked.

A CCGT Plant is more compatible for operation with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power plants with fluctuating outputs than a CPP which cannot respond to such fluctuating supplies. Unlike a CPP, a GPP does not generate even a gram of ash, any SO2 and no particulates. Even the NO2 generated and warm water released from a GPP are much less that that from a CPP.

It is surprising therefore that none of the leaned members of COPE questioned the CEB Chairman, why CEB wants to pursue building more coal power plants when they cause so much pollution as described earlier and pose problems in operation and maintenance in preference to a natural gas power plant which does not cause any such pollution and easier to operate. Currently, there are three CCGT Plants being operated and maintained by Sri Lankans for decades. Obviously, the COPE members appeared to have not done their homework before coming to the meeting.

The other important aspect of a GPP is that CO2 emitted by a GPP is only about half that of CO2 emitted by a similar capacity CPP. Hence, shifting from coal power to gas power is an acceptable means of mitigating carbon emissions as quired under the Paris Agreement. In a paper the Writer submitted to the 2019 National Energy Symposium, he showed that by shifting from CEB’s coal power-based Base Case Plan for 2015-34 to a no-coal case given in the 2018-37 Plan, the amount of CO2 emitted during 2021 – 2030 period could be reduced by 25%, which is more than the reductions targeted from all sectors.

Further, shifting from coal power to gas power altogether will help in achieving the President’s target of meeting 70% of energy consumed in generating electricity from renewable sources by 2030, as announced at a meeting he had on 14.09.2020 with the Power Minister, Renewable Energy State Minister and officials of the two Ministries and institutions coming under them. This is because the fossil fuel share will get reduced significantly with GPPs compared to that with CPPs.



Though the COPE had a meeting specially for looking into the affairs of the Norochcholai CPP, members appeared to have probed into matters seen on the surface instead of looking deep into its affairs. In particular, COPE has overlooked the following aspects of the Norochcholai CPP.


1. Whether the stack emissions from the plant conform to the National Emission Standards for Power Plants, violation of which is a punishable offence, and why the data are not made public.

2. Whether the AAQ measurements made by the CPP conform to the National AAQ Standards, and why the data collected are not made public.

3. Whether the CEB is aware of loss of livelihood for many in Norochcholai caused by deposition of ash on agriculture land and sea, and whether any compensation was paid for them.

4. Whether the CEB is aware of high levels of Mercury found in hair of women living around Puttalam Lagoon and why no action has been taken in this regard.

5. Whether the CEB has got the coal and ash from the CPP analyzed for their toxic heavy metals and radio-nuclides present in them, and if not why.

6. Whether the CEB is aware of the presence of radio-nuclides in coal ash and hence their unsuitability to manufacture bricks for use in house construction.

7. Whether the CEB is aware of the fact that it is difficult to achieve the President’s targets for RE share in power generation (70%) by 2030 by building more coal power plants.

8. Whether the CEB is aware of the fact that by shifting from coal to gas for power generation, the country can easily meet its obligations towards the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

9. What justification is there for planning to build more coal power plants causing heavy pollution when non-polluting power plants burning alternative clean fuels are available.

10. What justification is there for CEB to take four years to evaluate and make an award of a tender for building a 300 MW GPP operating with gas on BOOT basis.

11. What justification is there for the CEB to include building a coal power plant as a project to be executed urgently as a post-COVID activity which is nothing but an unethical measure to circumvent tendering.

The writer expects the COPE will probe into above matters at its next meeting with the CEB.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation



By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.





The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.





In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

Continue Reading


Album to celebrate 30 years



Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

Continue Reading


LET’S DO IT … in the new normal



The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.



Continue Reading