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Retreat from Sanity in the Power Sector

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by Parakrama Jayasinghe

Sanity has Prevailed No More Coal Power Plants” . This is the title of my article in the Sunday Island in October 2016 ( ) after the Secretary, Ministry of Power and Energy gave an undertaking to the Supreme Court on September 13, 2016 , that the proposed Sampur coal power plant will not be built. This undertaking did not result from the Ministry or the CEB exercising any rational reasoning of the insanity of continuing to push for more and more coal power plants, but due to the undeniable and obvious negative impacts of the proposed coal power plant laid before the Supreme Court. The writing was on the wall that if the plea by the Environmental Foundation Ltd supported by many other concerned organizations and individuals, if heard by the court would have resulted in the same outcome.

The euphoria felt by the country at large was spelled out by the first paragraph of my above article

“Sri Lanka and those of us who have battled for decades to highlight the dangers posed by use of coal for power generation, both for the environment in general and the health of the people without exception, can at last heave a sigh of relief. It is hardly necessary to emphasize that Sri Lanka not having any indigenous coal reserves, had no compulsion to even consider this option until all other options are exhausted.”

That was back in 2016. Anyone who has even a nodding acquaintance with the recent trends in the power sector in the rest of the world, would therefore be aghast to listen to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa declaring in the recent budget speech that a 300 MW coal power plant is proposed to be built at Norochcholai. It will be recalled that Rajapaksa in his Presidential Election Manifesto ” Vision for the Future ” declared

 

Indigenous energy resources will be developed to the optimum levels to minimise dependence on non-indigenous resources, subject to economic, environmental and social constraints. (Page 5)

 

This was in 2010. The changes in the last decade on all “economic, environmental and social constraints” without exception have made even consideration of any coal power plants totally insane._

And President Gotabaya Rajapakse went even further to declare a goal of achieving 80% renewable contribution to the energy sector by year 2030. As such there is absolutely no room for any more coal power plants as the present three are expected to continue to operate and limp along till then.

So we, the citizens are nonplussed by this turn of events with the Minister for Power and Energy Dulles Alahapperuma bragging in parliament (Nov 28, 2020) that work on the fourth coal power plant at Norochchloai will commence in two weeks.

Even though the Sampur coal power plant was shelved, the CEB never accepted that Sri Lanka could have a secure and reliable power supply in the future without depending on more coal power plants. Enough has been said about the harm being done by this power plant to the environment and the health of the people and will not be repeated here. The CEB continued its campaign to do further harm by proposing to add some 2,700 MW if coal power in their proposed Long Term Generation Plan for 2018-2037.

Fortunately the totally false assumptions and forecasts used to portray coal power as the least cost option was debunked by many and the PUCSL approved an amended proposal which had 4500 MW Natural Gas power plants instead of any more coal power plants. ( )

The CEB was not ready to accept this decision of the regulator, which is its legal responsibility and through its Engineers Union launched a campaign to discredit the PUCSL, the legally constituted regulator. The government did not have the backbone to lay down the law and tell the CEB authorities to abide by the LTEGP approved by the PUCSL. This would have been the procedure in any country when any licensee flouts the regulator’s orders and faces revoking of the permits issued to them. While in Sri Lanka, the country like no other irrespective of the government in power, such stipulations apply only to private sector developers of renewable energy.

Or does this portend the future way of doing things when there are rumblings of the Electricity Act to be changed to take away the powers of the PUCSL. The PUCSL has done yeoman service in past years to protect the rights of the consumers as well as the country, by debunking the totally fallacious arguments set forth by the utility, trying to pretend that coal power is the least cost option. Without an independent regulator for the sector, the CEB with the monopoly status could continue their totally irresponsible plans and programs.

It is unfortunate to see that they have managed to hoodwink the present government and the Ministry of Power and Energy as well, as they have continued to do so for several decades. The newest ploy was to propagate a myth of ” Clean Coal ” The fact that there is no such animal was clearly explained in the Article Dirty Coal Raising its Head disguised as “Clean Coal” ()

If these unwarranted and totally unwise power projects are permitted to go through, “The Vision for Prosperity and Splendour” of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa which the country hoped would embody the national policy of the present government, would be relegated to just an election manifesto like many others in the past, just promises with no intention of fulfilling.

But all that is required to reach a clear vision for the future of coal for electricity, is to view the dozens of postings on the internet. Many countries with vast indigenous coal resources are shelving plans for any more coal power plants and increasing numbers of existing coal power plants are being closed down. A few of these news item out of hundreds are listed below.

 

The World Scene – New Coal Plants canceled

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources proposed 350 MW Gazaria coal plant be dropped. Bangladeshi government officials have confirmed almost 90 per cent of proposed coal power plants may be scrapped,

Coal power is no more a cheap option and it’s becoming more expensive for imported coal. -Mohammad Hossain, the Director General of the Bangladesh Power, Energy and Mineral Resources research body.

Maharashtra’s Minister for Energy, Nitin Raut, rejected construction of a new 660 megawatt (MW) coal unit at the aging 910 MW Nasik plant owned by the Maharashtra State Power Generation Company

Canada:

Donkin mine in Nova Scotia, which opened in 2017, closes

UK:

The 2000 MW Fiddler’s Ferry and the 1725 MW Aberthaw power stations have closed

Global coal power capacity declined by 21,200 megawatts (MW) in the first half of 2020 with the largest changes being the closure of 8300 MW in European Union countries and 5400 MW in the US,

Poland Could Phase Out Coal by 2030 in Business As Usual

French will close its 600 megawatt (MW) Provence coal plant in France two years earlier than planned.

Other countries shouldn’t settle for dirtier, high-carbon power projects now that China has decided to phase them out domestically, Han Chen in China Dialogue.

Romanian Government confirms no more coal plants to be built:

Marubeni Corporation, will exit from the consortium proposing to build the 630 MW Thabametsi coal plant in South Africa.

NGO groups in the Philippines have welcomed the decision by the South Korean utility KEPCO that it will not proceed with the proposed Sual 2 coal plant,

Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, said he would “fundamentally change Japan’s long-term reliance on coal fired energy” as the country moved to be carbon neutral by 2050

South Korea unveils 2050 carbon neutrality target. “We will create new markets and industries and create jobs by replacing coal power generation with renewable energy,”

Pakistan: Government considers ban on new plants that rely on imported gas and coal

( The web references to these news items are available if requested)

 

It is seen that these decisions come from all over the world and from many countries with their own coal resources. There is no earthly reason for Sri Lanka to take an opposite view, unless driven by private agendas. Furthermore the source of funding for coal power plants are also drying out.

 

No more Funding for New Coal Power Plants

Sumitomo announces suspension of loans for new coal plants

Review urges Asian Development Bank to support coal phase-out…

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has decided not to finance the proposed 1050 MW Lamu coal plant in Kenya.

Samsung’s key insurance affiliates pledge to halt coal investments

 

Coal is no longer the Least Cost Option

Solar and Wind power are now cheaper than coal in all countries. This has been proven time and again in Sri Lanka too as indicated by the responses to the recent tenders.

In addition to the concerns on the environmental damage the very clear evidence that Renewable Energy resources such as wind and solar are now far cheaper to generate electricity than even operating existing coal power plants. Therefore even on economic grounds opting for more coal power plants for Sri Lanka is sheer lunacy, unless of course there are other reasons which do not come into the public domain. Why this haste to commence work on a power plant in blatant violation of the Electricity Act as well as the due process for evaluating the environmental impacts? Maybe the plan is to get docile agencies to formulate the Terms of Reference and for conducting the EIAs as was done in the case of existing coal power plant, as well as in case of the Sampur coal power plant. It will be interesting to see to what extent the TOR will cover the recommendations by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri in his article (). In addition the SLEMA report on the externalities clearly shows that a minimum of Rs 10.00 per unit has to be added to the cost of generation from coal to cover the impact on the environment and the health aspects.

In this situation, a ray of hope is the directive given by the Chairman of the COPE that the Central Environmental Authority should have the jurisdiction to conduct the EIA process as the possible environmental impact would affect the whole country, beyond the boundaries of the North Western Province.

But then who knows to what extent the CEB or the Ministry will abide by the directions of COPE when they regard the directives of the Regulator PUCSL in utter disdain.

There are many Renewable Energy Projects and even Natural Gas projects already approved by the government , which will ensure the future energy security without resorting to this dirty coal option, whatever the effort to whilewash it.

As such Sri Lanka can only wait in hope for sanity to return as nothing seems to have changed in the power sector, irrespective of the change in government and lofty promises given.

 

Eng Parakrama Jayasinghe

E Mail:

28th Nov 2020

Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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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.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

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.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

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.

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Features

Album to celebrate 30 years

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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.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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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.

 

 

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