Sanity Has Prevailed – No More Coal Power Plants

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  • 4 weeks ago
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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. In the recent years the whole world including those countries with vast coal reserves on their own, are opting out of this option. But let that be a matter in the past.

The announcement by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the State Regulator governing the electricity industry, that the Long Term Electricity Generation Plan (LTEGP) submitted by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) covering the period 2018-2037, has been approved, without recourse to any more coal-based power generation (The Puttalam Coal power plant of capacity 900MW is already commissioned ), is most welcome. This decision comes at a time when the very legitimacy of Sri Lanka as a good global citizen is under a cloud, due to the manipulations of some, which led to the submission of a disgraceful National Declared Commitment (NDC) on Green House Gas ( GHG) emissions. Sri Lanka’s NDC submission has been to add 13 more coal power plants which would have increased the GHG emissions fivefold, whereas the commitment made at the Paris Conference was to reduce the emissions by all countries, in order to try and limit the global warming to a maximum of 2 Deg (0C ). With this momentous decision, Sri Lanka can once more hold its head high, with the promise of a significant reduction of our GHG emissions, contributing even in a small measure to combat the climate change from which we too are suffering already.

It is indeed necessary to congratulate the CEB for their courage in including this scenario of ‘No Coal Option” in the LTEGP, considering that all their previous plans unequivocally projected only scenarios heavily tilted towards many thousands of MW of coal power. This is indeed praiseworthy, considering that much misinformation has been published by interested parties with decidedly narrow and short term mind sets or more probably other agendas to perpetuate our dependence on coal.

The Proposed Energy Mix

The Scenario for the long term generation plan approved by the PUCSL is based on the “No Coal Option” included in the LTGEP submitted by the CEB in May 2017 covering the period 2018-2037

Thus the power generation capacities approved are

  • 242 MW of major hydro,
  • 215 MW of mini hydro,
  • 1,389 MW of solar,
  • 1,205 MW of wind,
  • 85 MW of biomass,
  • 4,800 MW of natural gas,
  • 330 MW of furnace oil-based power and
  • 105 MW of gas turbine power

PUCSL    has performed the due diligence necessary, in evaluating the proposals made by the CEB and the accuracy of the assumptions made by them in support of their preferred scenarios. The corrections made on such assumptions have clearly proved that the least cost option for power generation, which is the basic principle underlying the planning process, is the “No Coal Option”. The logical basis on which this decision has been reached is now available in detail in the public domain in the PUCSL web http://www.pucsl.gov.lk

Moreover, at a time when Sri Lanka is in need of very stringent financial discipline, the fact that the proposed scenario without coal is the true economic least cost option with a cumulative present value cost of US $ 12,893 Million Vs the base case cost of US $ 13,961, with fuel price adjustments and addition of cost of externalities in both instances, takes an even greater significance in the national context.

The stake holders who submitted their views and comments can be gratified that their efforts have not been in vain and an important and progressive milestone has been reached. This augurs well for the future energy options of Sri Lanka to benefit from the important advances being made in technologies to optimize the utilization of renewable energy resources.

It is evident that the present approved plan, by and large, has replaced the proposed use of coal with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Once more an imported resource albeit environmentally less damaging than coal or even oil. In the electricity sector power generation LNG appears to be the cheaper option when wind and solar power is discounted, on the premise that these resources are variable and non-firm. That picture will change well before the end of the tenure of the present plan or even before the due date for the development of the next plan, allowing us to take a second look at LNG well before the projected 4800 MW of LNG plants are initiated.

Role of Dendro Power as Base Load Power

In this context, it is unfortunate that Dendro power, which is much more benign and indeed beneficial, environmentally and economically, has not been given a place in the generation plan, even though it is as firm a source of energy. The CEB plan does not consider Dendro power as a candidate option and has suggested addition of a paltry 5 MW per year, when more than 50 MW of projects are already in the pipe line

It is hoped that the PUCSL will issue a firm directive to the CEB that Dendro power must be included as a candidate option at least in the next planning cycle. It is not the role of the CEB to reject the feasibility of Dendro power based on their own perception of fuel wood supply potential. As much as the government has taken the responsibility of supplying the coal for the 900 MW coal power plant, the President’s own program to plant a billion Gliricidia trees would ensure a firm sustainable and renewable fuel resource to generate 500 MW of power. The potential from other sources both public and private is many fold, requiring only the direction and policy support from the Government and its Ministries and other agencies. The misconception that Sri Lanka does not have adequate lands and that a Dendro power program would lead to further destruction of forest lands has been debunked elsewhere and will not be addressed here ( Visit www.bioenergysrilanks.lk) .

The Energy Frugality Needed and Options in the Short Term

The PUCSL has emphasized the need for urgent action to implement the approved power plants to avoid and power shortages in the coming years. The recent history of Sri Lanka’s attempts in the electrical sector tenders would suggest that this hope may not be easily realized. Therefore one would say that power cuts would be inevitable, not because of the denial of approvals for coal power plants which would any way have taken many years to be implemented.

Therefore, our entreaty to the engineers of the CEB at this juncture is to accept this challenge by stepping into the breach with viable alternatives, other than the dependence on the horrendously expensive emergency power. Their undoubted combined knowledge and experience must now be exercised to serve the nation, without feeling despondent about the PUCSL decision, which has come after wide stake-holder consultations. They can aspire to be the champions who can show their mettle as true professional engineers, in this time of need. It must be stated that anyone who continues to promote coal power as the only available option, either inside or outside the CEB, only displays the shallowness of their knowledge and incompetence or at worst vested interests, need no longer be heeded .

The importance of demand side management and the energy efficiency measures will be most important means of meeting any crisis. This is a responsibility of the consumers as well and could be guided and facilitated by the CEB as well as the SEA. We eagerly await the import of the millions of LED bulbs promised by the Hon Minister recently. It would be worthwhile to issue them even free of charge to the deserving consumers. The data relating to the means and impact of energy efficiency measures on the electricity demand are available with the Sustainable energy Authority ( www.energy.gov) . All consumers, particularly the heavy consumers should consider these measures which would be economically beneficial to them as well.

The tremendous interest and development of the roof top solar power systems, now exceeding 80 MW with more than 100 MW more on the cards, should be viewed as a platform for fast track solution to fill the emerging gap. This sector could expand rapidly if given the necessary support by the CEB. So is the interest in wind power along with the CEB’s own 100 MW in Mannar.

Getting ready for the future

The problem of intermittency and variability of these two sources of energy will be surmounted in the coming years much faster than the current predictions. Sri Lanka need not wait until that happens as a quick look at the daily generation pattern would indicate. We should be ready to gain the additional boon when the storage costs dip below the strategic 100 $/MWh threshold.

These renewable resources have the greatest importance, with the investments coming from private investors, without any burden on the treasury. The only requirement is for the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy and the CEB and the SEA to provide transparent policy guidelines and to extend their support and facilitation for the process.

Lastly the PUCSL must be congratulated for the logical decision and the transparent manner in which the stakeholder views have been handled. Similar efforts are expected in the next planning cycle, where they have indicated that a mandatory 60% contribution by renewable energy would be included. The policy document of the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy, “Energy Sector Development Plan for a knowledge based Economy , has a target of a 93% contribution by 2030 which should be the goal for all future long term generation plans.

Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe
Past President
Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka
E Mail: parajaysinghe@gmail.com
22nd July 2017

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