Interviews

No more diesel or coal power plants: Duminda Dissanayake 

  • Regardless of ‘mafia’ in power sector, RE plan will be implemented 
  • Focus on hydro, solar, wind, and offshore wind plants 
  • Annual breakdowns made to achieve 70% RE target by 2030 
  • Several committees appointed to expedite programme 
  • RE generation projects will not be blocked by CEB 
  • CEB is responsible to implement Govt.’s target 

 By Yoshitha Perera  

The Sri Lankan Government is engaged in a strategic plan to promote and develop renewable energy power plants in the country. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa aims to convert 70% of the country’s energy consumption to renewable energy (RE) by 2030. 

In an interview with The Sunday Morning, State Minister of Solar, Wind, and Grid Power Generation Projects Development Duminda Dissanayake shared some insight into the current energy development plan. 

Following are excerpts from the interview:

What sort of new RE projects are in the pipelines? 

Our aim is to implement 70% renewable energy and 30% clean energy and the Ministry has already formulated initial plans to achieve the target in 2030. We have already decided what kind of projects we would continue annually to attain this target. We would use hydro, solar, wind, and offshore wind power in future projects and we have planned the capacity we need.  

Currently, under the concept of “Ready to Invest”, we have planned three stages for implementing renewable energy power plants. The first one is the 100 MW Mannar Wind Power Project, which is nearing completion of the assigned target, and there will be another 20 MW added to the same plant in the near future. We have already called for tenders to proceed with the work. We will also increase the capacity of this wind power plant by adding another 200 MW in the future.   

There is an initiative to sanction a 100 MW solar park in Siyambalanduwa and we had also planned to create a hybrid renewable energy park including 240 MW wind and 800 MW solar power in Pooneryn. These are the mega projects initially planned by the Government.  

Another important fact is floating solar power plants. As Sri Lanka has many reservoirs, we are currently conducting a feasibility study on how we can develop the floating solar power capacity in our country. 

Also, under the 100,000 houses project, we hope to get 5 KW and 500 MW. We also hope to connect 550 MW to the national power grid from projects that have been delayed for the past 10 years. For that, cabinet approval has been obtained, discussions have been held with the teams in charge of the project to give the necessary permission, and the remaining steps are being implemented. 

The President wants 70% renewable energy sources. How can this target be met with the existing policy guidelines? Is there any plan to amend the current policy guidelines?

Yes. For this, we have already appointed several committees. One is that under the Renewable Energy Act, we can use energy sources less than 10 MW with a feed-in tariff policy mechanism. Accordingly, we had appointed a committee to formulate a feed-in tariff policy mechanism to accelerate new investment in renewable energy technologies.  

Another major problem we face is that when planning renewable energy projects, we have to take approvals from many different entities and it is a time-consuming procedure. That is why previous projects with a total capacity of 550 MW have been delayed for about 10 years. We consider this a key issue and we will formulate guidelines for different energy projects. Under these guidelines, wind power is a separate energy source and it will have different guidelines; solar power will have separate guidelines.    

Why is the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) seen as blocking this move? Are there any moves to amend laws governing the electricity sector to accommodate the expansion of renewable energy generation?

We will not be blocked by the CEB. The biggest problem for the CEB is that when renewable energy is added, their system will not be upgraded and they will have to upgrade again and again on a large scale to develop the power system in Sri Lanka, which they had planned many years ago. When we had discussions with the President, the Minister of Energy, and the CEB officials, our Ministry said that we will implement the plan for renewable energy but the CEB has to upgrade their system by using the funds. They can also have discussions with the President to upgrade their system. 

If the Government’s policy is 70% renewable energy and 30% clean energy, then it is the responsibility of the CEB, as a government agency, to implement the relevant steps to increase these renewable energy sources. I think the Energy Minister has already advised the CEB officials on how to upgrade their system. We hope that the CEB will provide us assistance in the future to elevate renewable energy projects.   

What are the economic benefits that can be expected by introducing more renewable energy plants? 

We are trying to add renewable energy plants by replacing thermal power energy in the country, and the operational cost of renewable energy is much lower than thermal power generation. That gives us a huge saving.

On the other hand, there are plenty of local investors to invest in renewable energy. When local investors handle these projects, we will be able to save the country’s money. For example, we collect 500 MW through 100,000 homes and we provide that income to 100,000 families. With the emergence of a large number of large power generators in the country, we will be able to create a group that can strengthen the average middleclass economy in the country. 

If we are looking at a 70% renewable energy generation plan, what is the current distribution? 

The current national power grid, which primarily consists of hydroelectric power and thermal power, will be expanded further with renewable energy sources. The Government is targeting an energy self-sufficient nation by 2030 and the objective is to increase the power generation capacity of the country from the existing 4,043 MW to 6,900 MW by 2025 with a significant increase in renewable energy.   

There have been claims by electrical engineers that baseload power, as well as transformers, have to be increased in line with the renewable energy generation plants. Is this true, and how will this issue be overcome? 

We are hoping to get 700 MW out of 7,000 transformers of 100 KW in our power distribution through the transformer project, within the next three years. However, this is not a subject that comes under my Ministry and the CEB has to decide how they would increase their capacity. They have to decide on whether they are going to upgrade the transformer system, line upgrade, or add more substations to the country.   

If there’s a need to expand baseline power, what sort of energy will be looked at for that purpose? Will it be liquified natural gas (LNG) or hydro, since the President has rejected new coal power plants?

There will only be 30% for clean energy, that means mainly LNG or hydro. The President has clearly given us advice against coal; hydro or LNG has to be maintained within this 30% clean energy. We don’t think that according to the current energy plan, there will be an opportunity to add more diesel or coal power plants in the country. In the future, we will only provide LNG within this 30%. 

New Fortress Inc. already announced that it has signed a framework agreement with the Government to supply natural gas or LNG to the existing 300 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant. Are there any plans to involve other such foreign entities when it comes to the supply and storage of LNG in future projects?

We had already called tenders to upgrade a pipeline. Apart from this 300 MW, we have another 1,000 MW which is still using diesel and furnace oil. The President has also given us a target to convert this 1,000 MW to LNG. This 300 MW in Yugadanavi Power Plant is only one such project. 

India has already granted $ 100 million to increase the contribution of renewable energy sources to the national power grid by enhancing solar power generation. Are there any other foreign countries that would assist us in the future? 

Currently, only India has granted us $ 100 million for developing solar power generation. At present, the Government pays a huge electricity bill for state institutions. We hope to reduce this burden by installing the required solar panels in these institutions. We will take steps to use this $ 100 million for such government agencies and install necessary solar panels. 

We are hoping to have more discussions in the future with the countries and companies that promote renewable energy and to obtain their assistance to upgrade our national power grid. 

There has been talk of a long-standing diesel and coal mafia dictating the path of Sri Lanka’s power sector. If this is true, how will such obstacles be overcome? 

I don’t know whether this is a mafia or not. However, the Government’s plan is to upgrade the national power grid with 70% renewable energy and we have to drive ourselves towards that path. There is no point in discussing the diesel and coal mafia. If we are looking to upgrade renewable energy, we have to definitely shut down diesel and coal power plants. 

How long do you think it will take for Sri Lanka to achieve 70% renewable energy generation as well as increase clean power generation? 

We had already made a yearly breakdown on what energy sources we would improve within a year. Also, from the funds we received through the Indian credit line, we would implement the first floating solar project at the Parliament, on the Diyawanna Lake, as a model project.