By Aney Darling (written on 15.03.2016)
I have been away! Out of the country, out of the heat, the humidity, the sweat, the sticky armpits, the thighs that stick to fake leather and the searing, scorching i-hate-you sun that almost melts the skin right off your bones... in colder, cooler, cosier climates. Yes, you hate me and I'm glad I'm away. But, no, sadly, this week's column is not about sticking it to you. I'm only trying to get to the whole Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) trying to plummet the country into a terrifying age of darkness story; and the one about its Chairman attempting to resign in the middle of a crisis; and the whole situation of how clueless the officials are about the whole issue. It's not about me thanking god I'm not in Sri Lanka in the midst of a power cut added to one of the worst heat waves we have ever experienced.
Heat waves and power cuts
Yes, global warming. It's here. It has been here for a while, but no one seems to care. Everyone is complaining about the heat wave and the humidity but most people won't do a thing to change the course of the planet reaching insane levels of heat. We keep destroying the natural green cover, no one plants a fern let alone a tree, carbon emissions are rising, pollution as a whole is growing and all of us still feel like we can't function without polythene and life goes on. But March comes and we say 'why is this happening'? 'What did we do to deserve this'? And 'Let's overthrow the government' in unison.
Talking about the government, the Ceylon Electricity Board is taking things to the next level. 'Heat wave?!' they say, 'What heat wave? Just wait until the power in the entire country drops. Let's see how you do without your fans (and A/Cs for those fortunate) then! The people aren't happy. Two countrywide power breakdowns have occurred in the last month alone (and three within the last six months - 12 March, 25 February and September 2015). The most recent blackout occurred around 2.30 p.m. and was gradually restored after three hours in Kandy and Colombo only to be dropped again after a few minutes - most people experienced a six hour power cut, some even eight! Several parts of the country, including Colombo experienced power outages the following day as well and will be doing so for the next few days.
Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy Ajith P. Perera told media that a fire that resulted from an unusual explosion of a 220 KV transformer at the Biyagama Grid Substation caused the power outage while the Secretary to the Ministry Dr. Suren Batagoda said that the tripping of substation may have caused it. It's the year 2016 and we are still in fear of a tripping or failure of one transformer causing the entire country to a black out instantly. Such technological advancements, I say.
Lost coal power and the resigning chairman
And that's not all. The wonderful CEB has also warned the public to expect intermittent power outages during the following days as the countrywide power outage has damaged all three machines of the Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant in Norochcholai. The Norochcholai coal power plant supplies approximately 900 Mega Watts to the National Grid. The process of getting the machines to cool down and the plant to become fully operational again will take several days. Added to this, The Ambatale and Kandana water purification plants have also stopped pumping water due to the power failure.
Although the Minister of Power and Renewable Energy Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has refused the resignation of the Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board Anura Wijeyapala, he did decide to resign from his post in the midst of all this. I think he mistakenly believed that he was being gallant saying that he would resign from his post once the power is restored and took the responsibility for the three power failures. Gallant! It is preposterous that the country should experience such massive power outages in the span of mere six months. You should feel ashamed, not gallant and you need to get it fixed. You also need to provide answers; lots of them - answers that have sadly been missing for years.
We all know that successive governments appointed committees to find the causes for the many power failures the country encountered in the past, but nothing came of it. Following the previous outage another committee was appointed by this government for 'further investigations'. Still nothing has come out of that. Now they will hold meetings upon meeting and these new CID-investigations will be talked of for a few weeks and that would too come to nothing. The only thing the CEB is said to have done was to curtail overtime of the labourers who were working day and night to restore power to the country. And the only thing that the Deputy Minister Perera has done was to make false promises of providing electricity to all households in Sri Lanka by April this year.
The government however believes that the recent breakdowns are connected to political sabotage. Minister Siyambalapitiya apologised to the public for the inconvenience caused by the latest power outage and regretted that a countrywide power failure occurred even before the report of the previous blackout of 25 February was released. He said that matters will be studied further and that the public will soon be informed of what went wrong.
I don't think so. If we are to take actions of the past into account, Dorothy, I think we will never know of what went wrong. Let's only hope for possible things; like the rains and winds eventually bringing this heat wave to an end. From now on, I think I will put my trust in the unpredictability of nature than in the actions of men.