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New Electricity Bill: Experts query consumer benefits, unaddressed issues

New Electricity Bill: Experts query consumer benefits, unaddressed issues

19 Apr 2024 | BY Sahan Tennekoon

  • Cite lack of distribution limits/potential ‘full’ privatisation/price hikes/ inadequate provisions
  • Questions on Minister being empowered to change long-term generation plan 

In the wake of the proposed Electricity Sector Reforms Bill being published in the Government gazette on Wednesday (17) as the ‘Sri Lanka Electricity Bill’, energy expert Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya claimed that the electricity consumers will not have the expected benefits from this particular Bill since certain long-term issues in the sector have not been addressed by the Bill.

Posting on the social media platform X yesterday (18), the Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera said that the Bill will be presented to Parliament in the next sitting week, claiming that the amendments suggested by the stakeholders in January have been drafted into the revised Bill. Wijesekera also mentioned that the public will have two weeks from the day of the presenting of the Bill to the Parliament to challenge its legality in the Supreme Court (SC).

Against this backdrop, speaking to The Daily Morning yesterday, Dr. Siyambalapitiya claimed that the Bill is not capable of addressing the existing issues in the energy sector and that therefore, it will leave no significant impact on the consumers as was expected. 

Stating that a similar piece of legislation was brought in 2002 as well, he said that there will be no use in bringing plenty of new laws without implementing them correctly. He also said that the proposed Bill will not include any limits for the four distribution companies, which could lead to a full privatisation of the electricity sector and high utility prices. 

“As per this new Bill, 50% of the transmission will be owned by the Government. But, no such limitations have been mentioned regarding the distribution. This could lead to a full privatisation and an increase in prices,” he observed. 

He further noted that the proposed Bill does not include enough provisions for competitive energy procurement. Highlighting that politicians and officials blocking the establishment of power plants and a lack of competitiveness in the procurement system have caused high generation costs, Dr. Siyambalapitiya said that the stakeholders were hopeful that this Bill could address the particular issues. He also added that the Bill would grant the subject Minister the power to change the long term plan drafted by the Ceylon Electricity Board's (CEB) generation planning team, and that such provisions could cause many issues, such as maintaining power-related stability.

Meanwhile, CEB Workers’ Union (CEBWU) General Secretary Ranjan Jayalal told The Daily Morning that the CEBWU would challenge the Bill before the SC once it is tabled in the Parliament and also claimed that the Minister and the authorities have misled the public by claiming that the Bill has been revised according to the stakeholders' opinions. He also alleged that the Minister has consulted only a few unions attached to CEB that are loyal to the incumbent Government and opined that this proposed Act would be repealed if the incumbent Government lost its power in a future election.

According to the CEB Engineers' Union (CEBEU), this Bill would grant authority for the companies to increase the electricity bill arbitrarily, if the CEB was privatised in any case. Speaking to the media at a press conference held yesterday, the CEBEU President Dhanushka Parakramasinghe said that according to the proposed Bill, the electricity price will be calculated according to the ‘economic cost', instead of the 'minimum cost' that is currently being used. He said that it would pave the way for the authorities to increase prices arbitrarily under the guise of their costs.

However, Chief Government Whip, Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said that the Government is not in a hurry to get the Bill passed in the Parliament, as some parties claimed, and also said that enough time will be given to debate the Bill.

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