Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sampur Coal Power plant, Energy Crisis and Climate Change

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

It is hard to believe a country with 2932 MW installed capacity and gross generation almost 12,000 GWh is having blackouts when the peak demand is approximately 2000 MW. The current problems is therefore part of the conspiracy to build more and more coal power plant specially the Sampur project by India  and the proposed transmission line between Anuradhapura and Madurai in India.

Norochcholai plant stage one is a failure since it was a hybrid of used parts of an obsolete Chinese coal power plant with some new parts. The environmental community has been raising this issue from the very beginning and both CEA and the Government of Sri Lanka failed to investigate this matter. 

Research report produced by the Centre for Environmental Justice and the Sri Lanka Environment Congress entitled “Coal Matters in Sri Lanka” in late 2014 shows that people living around Norochcholai are suffering from air pollution due to fine coal dust, Fly ash and obnoxious gases. People complain headache, and other health symptoms. We found that no implementation of the Environmental Management Plan. Dropping coal into the ocean has reduced the fish stocks in Norochcholai area. It has brought severe restriction to the fishermen and some time their boats have been destroyed. The ground water in the Norochcholai area has become highly saline, mostly due to the construction impacts. Voltage drops are common in the area. Unbearable noise and the smoke emit from the coal power plant time to time is a severe environmental and health crisis to the people.

Sampur site will have two power plants one by the National Thermal Power Corporation on India and another one funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency(JICA). Each of them will have the installed capacity on 500 MW initially.

Sampur was a highly populated area before the civil conflicts, mainly the Tamil community. These lands should have been returned to the people, instead of grabbing for coal plant and the industrial area earmarked for some Indian polluting industries. The social issues related to the Sampur site are very high.

Meantime, it will be constructed in a more sensitive location and we have to expect more severe impacts to the lagoon due to the release of hot water, dropping coal and disturbing the ground water table. Total number of 285 faunal species was recorded in the project area representing, snails, butterflies, dragonflies, inland fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. It further states that 14 species that are endemic to Sri Lanka and 13 species that are listed as Nationally Threatened species including three Nationally Critically Endangered species. EIA also state the faunal assemblage also included three species that are listed as Globally Near Threatened and the project area also included two exotic fish species. The alteration and degradation of these wetlands can impact these species significantly. 

According to the research Article entitled “Cetacean Presence in the Trincomalee Bay and Adjacent Waters” shows the  appearance of whales and dolphins in both Koddiyar bay and Shell bay where the warm water will be released.

Dolphins and Whales are a great tourist attraction to Sri Lanka. Meanwhile the fish resources are the livelihood for the people living around the bay areas. Therefore Sampur project will create a greater economic risk to the people engage in the fishing and tourism while it will destroy the biodiversity and the natural ecosystem in the area.

Near field modelling indicate that near field influence zone with excess temperatures +7 Centigrade at point of discharge to +2 Centigrade to +4 Centigrade at outer boundary of influence zone.  

Due to the technology use in Sampur power plant, it will add Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) to the discharged water as a result of using Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) process which will produce Sulphuric Acid( H2SO4). The dispersion of SO2 is lower in the location and it will  increase the acidity in the lagoon and have negative impact on the corals and similar species. There are restrictions on releasing SO2 into the waters in other countries.

A large volume of cooling water used by coastal power plants. The research conducted in California shows that 21 coastal power plants potentially withdraw up to 17 billion gallons of seawater per day. This process results in the loss of billions of aquatic organisms, including fishes, fish larvae and eggs, crustaceans, shellfish, and many other forms of aquatic life from California’s coastal ecosystem each year. There has been increased focus on the effects of power plant cooling water intake systems because the biological resources of the world’s oceans are in serious decline.

Sea water for the Sampur Power plant shall be drawn from Koddiyar Bay through an intake well, proposed to be located at 700 m inside the Bay from a drawl level of 7 meters below mean sea level (MSL). Total sea water requirement is estimated to be about 93,120 m3/hr, out of which 92,000 m3/hr shall be used for condenser and auxiliary cooling and flue gas desulphurization while 1120 m3/hr shall be used in desalination plant for generation of fresh water. The total fresh water requirement is estimated to be 440 m3/hr. This estimate only for the Indian power plant along. The amount ill be doubled when the JICA supported power plant also established in the same location. Further, there is no serious analysis of losses to aquatic life due to entrainment and impingement because of the marine water intake, and no analysis of brine discharges from the diesel plant.

Fly ash will be a major problem which is also an issue in Norochcholai. Coal ash contains heavy metals such as lead, Chromium, Nickel, Mercury, Cadmium and arsenic. Putting coal ash into the cement production is distribution of toxic heavy metals to households. We strongly believe that this is a wrong practice by both coal plants and the cement factories. Meantime, wrong management of the Ash piles can lead to heavy metal pollution in the surrounding water bodies. This aspect has not been studies in this EIA. Some coal contains radioactive material such as uranium and thorium as trace material. If the content is high, when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels. Fly ash uranium sometimes leaches into the soil and water surrounding a coal plant and seawater. People living within a “stack shadow”—the area within a half- to one-mile (0.8- to 1.6-kilometer) radius of a coal plant’s smokestacks—might then ingest small amounts of radiation. Fly ash is also disposed of in landfills and abandoned mines and quarries, posing a potential risk to people living around those areas. This matter depending on the coal quality. The EIA is not clear on this issue.

According to the IUCN, number of  archeological sites found in the Sampur area. This aspect has not being adequately studied in the EIA.

The baseline air quality data shows that the project area already has poor air quality, that there are no proposed technology for control of mercury emissions.  As we are already facing climate crisis we should be aware that coal is the main fossil fuel responsible for the climate change. Therefore adding coal power to the national grid is an irresponsible act of the decision makers, which will increase the Sri Lanka’s contribution to global climate change. Sri Lanka as an island nation, which has been facing severe climate impact must promote climate friendly alternatives to meets its electricity demand rather that getting into the traps of coal promoters.

Sri Lanka INDC agreed to cut the carbon emission related to the energy by 4%. It intends to reduce the GHG emissions against Business-As-Usual scenario unconditionally by 7% (Energy sector 4%, and 3% from other sectors) and conditionally 23% (Energy sector 16% and 7% from other sectors) by 2030.

“Sri Lanka’s contribution to the emission of green house gases is negligible as compared to the rest of the world. However, being an island country, the adverse impacts of the anticipated changes arising out of global warming due to the rest of the world are likely to be significant.  Sampur 500 MW plant would alone emit 4135.4 GgCO2 per annum. The central value for the social cost of carbon is now estimated at $39 per metric ton. This would translate to social costs associated with the project’s CO2 emissions of: 4135.4 GgCO2 per annum x 1000 metric tons/GgCO2 x $39 = $161 million per annum. These social costs are not considered in the Conclusions and Recommendations section of the EIA. These social cost will be doubled when both Indian and JICA supported power plants installed in the Sampur area.

I strongly believe that national policy on meeting the energy and the Long Term Generation Expansion plan of the CEB should be reviewed and remove all climate unfriendly projects such as Sampur to provide space for the climate friendly alternatives including steps to reduce demand. It is becoming more widely understood that investment in demand-side management is a more cost-effective means of bridging the gap between energy supply and energy demand. 

The construction cost of the project is estimated at $350 million. The construction cost of the project is money that the Government of Sri Lanka would therefore not have to invest in Demand-Side Management. If the government invest in demand side management it would cost less. 

The EIA is a very short sighted document to bring this dialogue. It will require a better visionary  planning to manage energy in this  climate  crisis era.(Haritha Esa[ Green Eye] Issue 2)


Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

If you want to kill your river, asked  the Sustainable Energy Authority. They will send a river killers with a  permit to build a dam across the river. It will add few more megawatts to the  National electricity grid to make happy energy hungry people.

To enable this Minister John Senevirathne has issues a gazette notification 1538/22 on 26th February 2008 earmarking 500 meters of the river banks for mini hydro development.

Sri Lanka  is a proud island nation with 103 rivers and tributaries  with over 5000 km length. These rivers flourish the country with 65,610 sq kilometers which is home to thousands of life forms. 

These rivers also meets the water needs of 21 million people. River  floods make the soil fertile. Over 30,000  functioning tanks in Sri Lanka plays a major role in this life support system. These rivers produced over 500 waterfalls which are one of the tourist attractions and plays a major role of the aesthetic beauty of the island.

Rivers can produce energy too. Sri Lanka has 14 major dams  with 1400 MW installed capacity. On the Non-conventional hydro i.e small scale, grid-connected hydro resources developed in the past 15 years with capacity additions surpassing 180 MW of grid power, generating about 4% of the total capacity.  Some studies have estimated the total potential to be around 500MW.
But they are deadly for the rivers.

So- called Sustainable Energy Authority  is responsible for killing more than 200 kilometers of the Sri Lankan rivers so far. One hundred and forty three(143) micro dams have already build across river tributaries.  Over 50  dams are under construction.  They have already destroyed more than 65 waterfalls in Sri Lanka. Seven water falls, Handagiriya Ella, Anda Dola, Pandi Dola, Athwelthota Ella, Broadlands,  Alupotha and many other waterfalls  are in the edge of destruction.

Mini hydro was started and village hydro about 15 years ago with no grid connections. It serves people who are living away from the electricity grid. Once the mini hydro become connecting to the national grid and pay high tariff, it became a big business of the corporate sector and started tapping all tributaries under the so-called vision to generate non-convensional  hydro. 

We are not anymore living in an era to make business as usual. Climate change is already showing why we need to protect the water bodies.

It also has resulted alternative energy generation which includes Solar, Wind, Tidal, Geo thermal. It is unfortunate Sri Lanka still not promoting such technologies adequately. Sri Lanka has a very high potential for producing energy from wind, solar and wave power. However, we still have  little more than 100 MW installed capacity of renewable sources. Solar is less than 2 MW.

According to an study carried out by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of USA the potential for wind power in Sri Lanka is 20,740 MW’s. Similarly solar capacity  has the range from  4.5 to 6.0 kWh/m2/day for Sri Lanka.

This means right policies can make Sri Lanka energy secure while saving our pristine rivers and environment.( Haritha Esa[ Green Eye] Issue 2)

Uma Oya diversion- Development or a Disaster?

Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice/FoE Sri Lanka

Tunnelling in Uma Oya continues despite more wells become dry in Heel Oya area in Bandarawela. The report submitted to the Supreme Court states that  original water ingress 450 l/s was reduced to 60/70 l/s before sealing and after sealing it reduced to 47 l/s. However, when the drilling operation continues it has been increase to 110 to 125 l/s.  This proves that they are tunnelling through the shallow water aquifer.

It is evident that since the restart of tunnelling in January 2016, more than 20 new wells along the tunnel trace have dried up. This is  a serious ecosystem damage that should be immediately stopped and need to  redesign the tunnel.  If not this mountain ecosystem will be seriously damaged. This is clear ignorance of the monitoring bodies including the CEA.

The Uma Oya tunnel is being constructed  to bring Uma Oya water to  ‘Ali Kota Ara’  in the Kirindi Oya river basin.  It has designed to drill about 300 meters underground to have  approximately 600 m head to generate maximum electricity.  The tunnel collapsed in Heel Oya  area in December 2014 and more than 2500 houses got damaged, while 17 of them are not liveable anymore.

Hundreds of drinking water wells dried up in few hours. Since then people were provided with limited amount of water. No compensation has paid so far.

Beyond the damage to the people, the ecosystem damage is far more serious. The  tunnelling has resulted breaking the limestone soil structure which has damaged the  water aquifers in the area. Even if the tunnel is completely sealed, it will nor repair this soil structure.

Some officers gives false assurances to people that the water table will now be regenerated. Even if the sealing is done, it does not ensure the water table can be regenerated, as there may be many changes happened inside the aquifer. The new document claims that they have fixed things by sealing where the confining layer was pierced. However, that may not last long if any cracks develop in the material.

Majority of the population in the affected areas are farmers. Even the others who are engaged in government and private sector jobs used to cultivate vegetables to earn an extra income and for domestic consumption.

As a result of the drying up of water springs, streams and other natural water sources, the farmers had not been able to cultivate vegetables and paddy in the last four seasons starting from 26th December 2014.  It is unfortunate that the government is  keeping eyes close on the matter which is death and life situation for the villagers.( Haritha Esa[Green Eye] Issue 2)