by Neville Ladduwahetty
The material presented below relates to the policies explored by successive governments to meet the rising demands for water and electric power. Consequently, the policies adopted are with the intention of either increasing demands for water and power generation capacities, directly or indirectly, as a byproduct of another policy. They are presented as contradictions herein as the objective achieved by implementing one policy contradicts directly or impacts negatively on the objectives of another policy. For instance, new projects are pursued at considerable cost without expanding existing facilities to meet near identical power generation capabilities. Another instance is that water demands in one region are met at the cost of impacting negatively on existing power generation capacities.
Addressed below are three projects that expand on the above general claims:
1. Calling for bids to build, operate and transfer a new 350MW Liquid Nitrogen Gas (LNG) plant in Kerawalapitiya at a cost to the government’s Renewable Energy Programme.
2. Building new plants without expanding capacities at Victoria and Kotmale.
3. To transfer water to the Northern Province by transferring water from Randenigala to Moragahakanda at a loss of power generation at Randenigala and impacting negatively on the supply of water to the left and right banks of the Mahaweli at Minipe.
350 MW LNG PLANT at KERAWALAPITIYA
The most recent contradiction in the Power Sector is the Framework Agreement signed by the Government of Sri Lanka with New Fortress Energy (NFE), an American energy-based Company on September 17, 2021, to introduce LNG as the source to generate electric power. Since this is a fossil fuel it would be a set-back to the government’s own programme for Renewable Energy.
According to a press release issued by New Fortress Energy on September 21, 2021, and reported by NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE) “The Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (GOSL) jointly announced today that they have executed a definitive agreement for New Fortress’ investment in West Coast Power Limited (WCP), the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant, based in Colombo, along with the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo, the capital city. As part of the transaction, New Fortress will have gas supply rights to the Kerawalapitiya Power Complex, where 310 MW of power is operational today and an additional 700 MW scheduled to be built, of which 350 MW is scheduled to be operational by 2023”.
This means that as a result of the deal with NFE the total power generating complex at Kerawalapitiya would consist of the existing 310 MW plant, the 350 MW plant expected to be completed in 2023, and another new 350 MW plant to be built latter, thus making a total of 1010 MW of power generation. Furthermore, all these plants would be operating on LNG. In order to make all three plants operational, NFE has retained the right to develop a new LNG Terminal and as reported, with exclusive rights to supply LNG for a period of five years with the provision to renew supplies for a further 10 years.
Leaving aside the merits and demerits of the deal with NFE, there is a need to understand the overall status relating to the power sector. With implementation of the deal with NFE, what Sri Lanka would end up would be a 1010 MW LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya, 900 MW of a coal-fired plant at Norochcholai and a commitment to increase Renewable Energy (RE). Therefore, instead of expanding the capacities at Kerawalapitiya to 1010 MW, the deal with NFE from the perspective of Sri Lanka’s national interests, particularly from an environmental point of view, should be to convert the existing coal-fired plant at Norochcholai to LNG along with the LNG Terminal from Kerawalapitiya to Norochcholai. Such a shift of focus from Kerawalapitiya to Norochcholai would not affect progress on the RE Programme. Furthermore, converting from coal to LNG would significantly improve the quality of the environment in and around Norochcholai.
EXPANDING CAPACITIES AT VICTORIA AND KOTMALE
Another contradiction is the policy of the government to call for bids to set up a new 350 MW LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya without expanding the capacities of existing plants. A glaring example of this is that the recommendations proposed in a “Feasibility Study for Expansion of Victoria Hydropower Station”, dated June 2009, undertaken for the Ministry of Power and Energy on behalf of Japan International corporation Agency (JICA), have not been explored.
Section 6.1 of this report states: “The expansion of the Victoria Hydropower Station is composed of a headrace tunnel, a surge tank, penstock(s) and a powerhouse. The water intake was already constructed for the purpose of future expansion of the hydropower facility during the construction of the existing Victoria dam…One possible option of expansion plan is simply to place these components nearby the existing hydropower facility…referred to as ‘Basic Option’” (p. 29). Although the Report presents two other options, what is recommended is “to place an expansion powerhouse nearby the existing powerhouse facility.”
In the Section under Conclusions and Recommendations, the Report states: “Based on the results in (5) above, the Project is to connect the existing intake for the expansion and a new powerhouse to be located next to the existing powerhouse with a waterway parallel to the existing waterway. Water for generation of 140 m3/s is to be taken at the existing intake for the expansion and led through the headrace tunnel and penstock to the surface type powerhouse. The installed capacity is 228 MW with 2 units, and 716 GWh of annual energy are obtained with the existing and expansion power facilities (210 MW and 228 MW). Power generated is evacuated to the CEB grid through the existing transmission lines” (Ibid, p.4).
The material presented above clearly demonstrates that a real opportunity exists to double the capacity at Victoria using a resource that is not only the cleanest and cheapest resource to generate power but also one that allows these freely available resources to be wasted without making full use of their potential. It is indeed a serious omission to pursue new power generation units such as at Kerawalapitiya without expanding capacities at existing power generation units such as at Victoria.
TRANSFER of WATER to the NORTH
Yet another contradiction is the construction of the Upper Elahera Canal to transfer water from Moragahakanda to the Iranamadu Tank in the Northern Province. To achieve such an objective, it is necessary to transfer a considerable volume of water from Randenigala which is below the Victoria Hydropower Scheme back to Moragahakanda and in the process, to not only lose the power generating capacity at Randenigala but also to drastically affect the current supply of water to the right and left banks of the Mahaweli at Minipe.
There are several Reports addressing this issue of supplying much needed water to the North Central Province (NCP) and the Northern Province (NP). The concept of diverting water from the South to the North are central to a majority of the Reports because their studies have revealed that current arrangements do not have the capacity to deliver water to the NCP and the NP.
For instance, Paragraph 21 (p. 343) of the Report dated December 2014 prepared for the Ministry Irrigation and Water Resources Management by Technical Assistance Consultant on behalf of the ADB states: “The study has shown an increase in the diversion capacity at Moragahakanda to 974 MCM annually, required for the Upper Elahera Canal (UEC) and NCP canals addition to 617 MCM to the Elehera Minneriya Yoda Ela. The supplemental diversions from Kalu Ganga (772 MCM) Bowatenna (496 MCM) reservoirs and its own watershed (344 MCM) are adequate to cater the water demands under UEC.”
The conclusion that “adequate” water exists to deliver 974 MCM to the UEC and through it to the North Central and Northern Provinces depends on the availability of 772 MCM through the Kalu Ganga. Since arrangements to deliver the 772 MCM currently DO NOT exist, what is available is the water diverted from Bowatenna, namely 496 MCM and the 344 MCM in the existing catchments, making a total of 840 MCM minus the 617 MCM needed for the ancient five tanks from the Elahera Yoda Ela.
Therefore, what possibly could be transferred by the Upper Elahera Canal is 223 MCM. This is less than the 281 MCM intended to be transferred to Mannakkattiya-Eruwewa-Mahakandarawa (155 MCM) and 126 MCM to Huruluwewa according to paragraph 151 in the Report titled “Environment Impact Assessment Report” prepared for the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources Management” by the Mahaweli Consultancy Bureau (Pvt) Ltd. in December 2014.
In an independent study carried out by SMEC International (Pvt) Ltd for the World Bank titled “Updated Mahaweli Water Resources Development Plan”, dated November 2013 states in Appendix 5 Table 5.1, p.9 that the Downstream Release from Bowatenne as 651 MCM, the catchment inflow into Moragahakanda as 313 MCM and the release to the five ancient tanks from the Elahera-Minneriya Yoda Ela as 573 MCM. Therefore, water available for transfer to Upper Elahera Canal is 651+313= 964 MCM less 573 MCM, which is 391 MCM. Thus, the quantity of water in excess of what is needed for Mannakkattiya-Eruwewa-Mahakandarawa (155 MCM) and 126 MCM to Huruluwewa) is 110 MCM. Thus, this report confirms the findings of the previous report that there is insufficient water to meet water demands to the areas beyond Anuradhapura to the NCP and the NP.
The conclusions that could be objectively reached from the analysis of data in both reports is that as long as no arrangements exist to transfer water from Randenigala to Moragahakanda the quantities of water available are NOT sufficient to meet the demands of the NCP and the NP.
The proposal therefore is to transfer water from Randenigala augmented by water from Hasalaka Oya and Heen Ganga along the way together with water in 128 sq. km of the Kalu Ganga catchment (say76 MCM) to meet the demands for water in the NCP and NP. Since the water demands in these two small tanks are 75 and 56 MCM respectively, Randenigala would need to divert 772MCM less (76+75+56) which is 565 MCM annually. Diverting 565 MCM of water from Randenigala, which is equal to the active capacity of the reservoir would have a serious impact not only on power generation but also on the amount of water available for diversion to the right and left banks of the Mahaweli at Minipe. Therefore, diverting water to Moragahakanda from Randenigala is NOT an option. Diverting water to the NCP and NP at the expense of power generation and water availability to the East of Sri Lanka is a clear instance of contradictory policies that have been actively pursued by successive governments.
What is evident from a review of the projects cited above is that they are conceived and conceptualized in isolation without taking a holistic view at the planning stage and taking into account the impact of either ongoing projects or projects that are planned to be implemented. The three topics reviewed are, the New Fortress Energy(NFE) proposal to increase the power generation capacity at Kerawalapitiya, not capitalizing the capabilities to nearly double the generating capacity at Victoria and the delivery of water to the North.
For instance, the CEB had called for international bids to install a 350 MW LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya. Prior to the closing of bids, the government entered into a Framework Agreement with NFE to build two 350 MW LNG plants alongside the existing 300 MW plant at Kerawalapitiya together with a Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) to handle the LNG. The generating capacity at Kerawalapitiya would then be 1010 MW. In the meantime, the existing 900 MW coal fired at Norocholai would continue to belch pollutants associated with coal-fire power units. Therefore, the intended project should be redefined to convert the plant at Norochcholai to LNG and for the FSRU that was to be built at Kaeawalapitiya to be moved to Norochcholai. In addition, the needed increase in power generation should be met by doubling the capacity at Victoria as suggested in a Report to the Ministry of Power and Energy prepared by Japan International Cooperation Agency with any shortcomings being provided by Renewable Energy.
With regard to delivery of water to the North, the data presented above clearly demonstrates that as long as current levels of diversion from Bowatenna continue and water from its own catchments prevail, the quantities of water at Moragahakanda are insufficient to meet the demands in the NCP and NP. The ONLY way water demands of the NCP and NP could be met through the Upper Elahera Canal is by transferring nearly 565 MCM, which is equal to the active capacity of Randenigala Reservoir to Moragahakanda. The impact of transferring such a significant amount of water would not only be to curtail power generation but also to impact seriously on availability of water to fulfill the needs on the right and left banks of the Mahaweli at Minipe. This is a clear example of the policy of Mahaweli water to the North contradicting the policy of power generation and supply of water for agriculture.
These hard realities are known only to a few. Consequently, the expectation that water would eventually reach the North is so real that the general belief is that water to the North from the South is what would unify Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is imperative that measures are adopted to correct these misplaced perceptions and for alternative strategies to be developed to meet the demands for water in the NCP and the NP with the participations of the people concerned.
It is hoped that the material presented above would alert governments and project planners to take a holistic perspective when projects are conceptualized and not take compartmentalized approaches as demonstrated by the few examples cited above.
Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security
The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :
‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’
The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.
Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.
But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.
Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :
“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”
And that :
“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”
These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.
Encouraging signs, indeed!
Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving
Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.
They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.
The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.
On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.
Constructive dialogue beyond international community
by Jehan Perera
Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.
In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”
Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”
The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.
There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.
President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.
An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.
The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.
Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.
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