Media Focus


From The Restart of Puttalam Coal-fired Power Plant in Sri Lanka Means A Lot

Release time:2012-09-16 Article source: Reading times: A+AA-

On the morning of September 13, the reporter drove  north  three hours from Colombo to Puttalam , the first coal-fired power plant in Sri Lanka undertaken by a Chinese company. According to the responsible person of Sri Lankan side, Salia, Chinese engineers worked with local workers day and night, managed to solve the malfunction which had caused the one-month breakdown of the power plant and had resumed the power supply. Salia said in excitement: “This is of great significance to the national grid of Sri Lanka, and we all admire the quick response and competency of Chinese staff.”

On September 6, the units in Puttalam were restarted for power generation and reached full-load operation on September 7. Shortly Sri Lanka announced the end of power outage that had lasted for nearly a month.

Sri Lankan Minister of Power and Energy Champika Ranawaka expressed in a press conference on September 12 that the restart of Puttalam had greatly alleviated the power shortage of the country. He said: “Sri Lanka is the largest beneficiary of the power plant in terms of energy and economy.”

The Puttalam Coal-fired Power Plant sits 130km away from the north of Colombo. The first plant of its kind undertaken by CMEC in Sri Lanka, it is the largest economic cooperation project between China and Sri Lanka. The Phase I project, whose construction was started in July, 2007, started power generation last March, and has an installed capacity of 300,000kW, accounting for 17% of the national total. The Phase II project has an installed capacity of 600,000kW and is expected to be completed by 2014. With the completion of the above two projects, Puttalam will become the largest power plant in Sri Lanka.
According to Wimaladharma, Chairman of Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) which is in charge of the operation of Puttalam, Sri Lanka relies heavily on expensive oil-fired power generation which fails to meet the power demand. Meanwhile, the hydropower generation in Sri Lanka has shrunk greatly due to the prolonged drought this year.

CEB Vice Chairman Anura Wijepala also stated that “without Puttalam, the power shortage would cause 8 to 10 hours of power outage every day in our country, or the government would have to spend 60 billion rupee on emergency power purchase (1 rupee equals to about 0.0077 US dollar). It is known that the image of the plant was printed on the newly-issued 100-rupee currency note of Sri Lanka for publicity purpose.

Unfortunately the power generation of Puttalam was interrupted by technical problem in early August and the Sri Lankan government had to announce power outages because the power supply could not meet daily demands. Western media took the opportunity to accuse the quality of Chinese power plants. Reuters wrote “governmental officials of Sri Lank disclosed that Puttalam undertaken by a Chinese company had quality problem”, “the wrong location” and “the Chinese company used substandard equipment which caused sea water corrosion on some facilities of the plant’, and so on.

But Ranawaka had expressed in public before that it was a temporary breakdown caused by technical problem and not a quality problem. According to him, this is Sri Lanka’s first coal-fired power plant and considering its special geographic environment, the occurrence of technical problems is understandable. He also pointed out “we cannot rule out the possibility that someone with malicious intention takes this opportunity to attack Chinese enterprises and undermine the partnership between China and Sri Lanka.”

After the accident, Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka and CMEC timely communicated with the Sri Lankan side. CMEC sent an expert team and relevant technicians to the site for recovery service.

CMEC Vice President and General Manager of the Puttalam project Li Chaoyang told the reporter that preliminary examination indicated that the breakdown was possibly caused by the lack of experience and mal-operation of local technicians; what’s more, though it was stipulated that a new unit should be examined within one year of operation, the repeated requests for overhaul from the Chinese side were refused and the units in the plant were still in overloaded operation to meet current power demands. Mr. Li also explained the location problem of the plant. According to him, the decision to build the plant on the northwestern coastline of Sri Lanka was co-made by the government of Sri Lanka and a Swiss consultant firm in the 1980s, not by the Chinese company. Moreover, he stressed that after undertaking the project, CMEC had adopted higher level of countermeasures to fight the corrosion problem in the local environment.
As a symbol of Sino-Sri Lankan cooperation, Puttalam has become a great sight spot for local people. Before leaving, the reporter came across with a group of primary school students who were visiting Puttalam. Many of them even said hello to the reporter in Chinese and smiled proudly. Just as Minister Ranawaka says, “China has always been a good friend of Sri Lanka. We will never forget China’s active support and contribution to our national construction and economic and social development.”