Cabinet proposal on Sampur, Norochcholai coal power plants postponed

The Cabinet proposal to build two new coal power plants in Sampur and Norochcholai which could supply a total of 1200MW has been postponed for the second week in a row.

Power and Energy Ministry Secretary Suren Batagoda speaking to Daily News noted that it would be taken up once again when Cabinet reconvenes next, after the New Year in January.

Coal power plants have been a controversial topic in the country for both its environmental as well as social impacts. The Indian proposed coal power plant, Sampur too was cancelled by President Sirisena last year citing environmental and social concerns.

Batagoda however stressed that the government was not completely opposed to coal and that it’s policy was more aligned with ‘clean coal’.

“We have two impacts to consider when it comes to coal; local and global. Coal plants if not managed properly can release ash, sulphur and other particles to the surrounding. But Coal power plants when managed well, can significantly reduce such emissions. We have now dealt with this problem in Norochcholai. The installation of an electrostatic precipitator has removed ash, sulphur and other particulate emissions,” he said.

When it comes to the global, Batagoda explained that the Paris Agreement only called for a four percent reduction in fossil fuel use but Sri Lanka had voluntarily agreed to a 50 percent reduction. Given that Sri Lanka had a carbon emission of 0.78 metric tons per capita and close to 70 percent of its energy mix was hydropower, Batagoda believed that an additional coal power plant or two would make no difference to our international commitments.

The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) however has already approved the 2017-2038 Long Term Generation Plan and has opined that they were strongly against coal. Any new power plants would need their approval.

“They PUCSL’s premise is that LNG is cheaper than coal and thus we should go for that. But we already have four LNGs in the pipeline, if we go for more, instabilities in world LNG prices will greatly affect us”,Batagoda added.

The four LNG plants; one built by China (400MW), one by Japan (500MW), one by India (500MW) and another to be opened for tender (300MW) are expected to be completed by 2020.

“We hope to get a coal power plant built by 2025,”Batagoda said.

Environmental groups however have strongly objected to the proposals for coal power plants. They point out that continuing to invest in coal would take “Sri Lanka a long step back in a world fast progressing past coal”.

The term ‘clean coal’ they further added was a misnomer without a scientific definition.

“The term ‘clean coal’ implies higher technologies in coal processing that removes carbon emissions, although in reality the term is merely subterfuge created and popularized by the coal industry itself, in response to anti-coal litigation. To the best of available knowledge and scientific research, CCS and other technologies that ‘clean coal’ implies are still underdeveloped, and this seriously undermines the possibility that coal power plants in Sri Lanka will be clean. SO2, NO, Lead, Mercury and Cadmium are some of the non-carbon pollutants of coal power, and the technology for containing these is also at a nascent stage. Furthermore, highly efficient coal plants will still have higher carbon emissions than more environmentally friendly generation methods that the energy mix could include. Including new coal in our future energy mix for the sake of ‘diversification’ is unjustified and only further reinforces our climate change risks and threatens our national climate action programme”, they said in a release to the media. 

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