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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, May 09, 2005

Sri Lanka’s power crisis due to shortage of supply deepens

Political wrangling delay Norochcholai’s coal power plant

The Island: 07/05/2005" by Brian Tissera

The proposal to build a coal power plant at Norochcholai was subjected to severe criticism during the period 1988 to 201 and its was abandoned on the instructions of President Kumaratunge. This was also given wide publicity during the last presidential election, Senior Environmental scientist of the Environmental Foundation Ltd., Hemantha Withanage told the Island recently.

This proposal has been revived once more and it is important to examine the final decision of the court of Appeal application 318/98, Environmental Foundation Ltd Vs Central Environmental Authority and others on June 28, 2001.

The Counsel for third respondent, the Ceylon Electricity Board stated that his instructions were that the cabinet of Ministers have directed the third respondent not to proceed with the present scheme and look for an alternate side and also not to locate this coal plant at Norochcholai.

Further, the counsel for he fourth respondent, the Chief Minister of the North Western Provincial Council stated that if the power plant is to be located at Norochcholai, the fourth respondent would go through the provisions of the NEA Environmental impact assessment.

The case was moved to be withdrawn on this basis. The current move of the government of Sri Lanka and the Ceylon Electricity Board is a breach of the decision of the Court of Appeal, he said.

Be that as it may, there are a number of factors which have not been examined and others for which answers have to be found prior to this project being recommenced.

The direction for abandonment of the project from the President was primarily due to various protests by the people on unresolved social, environmental and technical reasons. The threat to the Holy Shrine at Talavila was a primary concern of the Bishop of Chilaw. In addition, sea erosion has already taken its toll and the sea which was more that 500 yards behind the church in the 60’s is almost 100 yards behind the Church at present. The construction of the coal plant could accelerate sea erosion, he added.

Another fear is that the coal stockpile covering a large acreage could be a danger to devotees in open camps and the shrine itself. Fine fly ash from the chimneys could spread all over despite many filter processes which are planned. The experience of the Puttalam cement factory which has been emitting dust for the past forty years has affected the health of the people in the vicinity causing respiratory related health problems.

The large stockpile of coal will create a huge amount of dust due to heavy blowing form the sea. This will affect the villagers nearby and also their cultivation. It would be worse during unloading and plant feeding times, which would be a continues process, day and night, year after year.

Engineering Analysis have revealed that when 2640 tons of coal are burnt every day, it will result in 180 tons of fly ash and 40 tons of boltom ash.

How will the dumping of this ash affect the surrounding land which is very fertile and the fresh water layer which is very little and only about five feet deep.

The super heated steam form the boilers is condensed using sea water at 45 cubic metres per second. Millions of gallons of water pumped from the sea is returned to the sea at higher temperature chasing away marine life. Nearly 5000 families engaged in the fishing industry will be definitely deprived of their livelihood.

This area is one of biggest fish producing areas, nearly 25,000 annually will be subjected to security restrictions due to the 4.2 Kilometre conveyor into the sea. The viability of the conveyor belt caused it to be rejected and the use of barges was suggested instead. Each such barge will carry 60,000 tons of coal and would accelerate the erosion of the coast. It has been reported that the coal is to be unloaded at Trincomalee and transported by road to Norochcholai. It would be cheaper to construct the coal plant at Trincomalee rather than using trucks to transport 2640 metric tons per day by trucks carrying ten tons each.

The dumping of boltom ash in the land fillings and seepage to the water table will cause severe hardships to agriculture. The sulphur composition in the fly ash settling on the crop and daily watering of the farmland will cause damages. More than 6000 families directly engaged in chilli, anion and other vegetable cultivation will be affected. National and private salterns covering around 1000 acres will also be polluted by fly ash. Export oriented prawn farms numbering about 300 will also have to be shut down, Withanage said.

One 300 MW plant, the first stage of a 900 Mw plant, will require 2640 metric tons of coal daily. A minimum stock of six months will be (2640 Metric tons x 30x6) 475,200 Metric tons. Storage of this stockpile at a height of one metre will require over 100 acres of land. If stored at a two metre height storage space would be over 50 acres. How could the coal dust due to heavy blowing he suppressed. Thing sprinkles to cover this whole facility will be a near impossible task.

The proposed transmission lines will have to pass through the Puttalam lagoon and surrounding prawn farms for about 10 kilometres of the total length. The number of towers to be constructed within this region, the extent of lagoon boltom to be used for the construction of the foundation of such Towers, the relative productive areas last have not been addressed in the report. The affect of construction on the lagoon and lagoon ecology needs to be included in the report.

Since ground water is available at between one metre and four metres below the surface, precautionary measures need to be taken to acrid contamination by sea water during the construction phase as ground water is the only source available for human consumption and irrigation.

The report also does not contain an economic feasibility analysis of the economic cost benefit. The compensation for resettlement is crucial and the environment Impact Assessment has not has not given much information on the willingness to accept a settlement package by settlers. The report also does not give sufficient site specific data on the ecology of the marine environment. This is not good enough for a project of this magnitude as it adversely affect the unique characters of the area ecologically.

The 4.2 km conveyer construction will be time consuming and very costly, it will need over 200 columns. It will take many years to complete due to being hampered by monsoon weather conditions. Maintenance of roller bearings will not be easy due to corrosion and the total investment will be at risk, if there is any terrorist attack.

When compared to a combined cycle gas turbine, the fixed and operational cost is much less. Further there are additional costs such as recovering cola dust from stockpiles, handling and transport, treating waste water containing coal dust, monitoring SO2 and TSP levels and calibration of equipment, disposing of fly ash and bottom ash and fresh water for the steam turbines, Withanage concluded.

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