President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday directed that the Army be deployed to provide security at all Ceylon Electricity Board installations connected to the national grid.
An islandwide power outage prevailed for the second
consecutive day lasting over eight hours prompting the President to issue a stern directive to deploy the Army to protect all installations connected to the national grid.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who summoned officials of the Ceylon Electricity Board and the Power and Energy Ministry, directed officials to take stern action against employees if found to be willfully hampering operations.
“The Prime Minister has directed to dismiss employees if found to be responsible,” Power and Energy Ministry Secretary Dr.B.M.S. Batagoda said.
“We have not ruled out sabotage. We still don’t know the exact reason for the power failure, so it could be sabotage,” he said.
Dr Batagoda when contacted by the Daily News was in the process of writing a letter to the President requesting his immediate intervention to resolve a multitude of issues crippling the power sector.
“We are still short of 300 megawatts on the national grid,” he said. “Norochcholai has faulted and we are presently not using our hydro power due to the water shortage.”
He requested the public to use electricity sparingly whilst citing that power outages could continue due to an overloaded national grid.
Both Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and Ministry Secretary Batagoda did not accept the resignation tendered by CEB Chairman Anura S. Wijayapala in the wake of the power outage on Sunday.
He has been requested to stay and assist with the investigation into the multiple power failures.
Sabotage not ruled out: Ranjith
Power and Renewable Energy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya yesterday said that a burst in a special transformer
installed at the Biyagama receiving station has been identified as the cause for Sunday’s six hour islandwide blackout.
He said it would take another three to four days to fully restore the power supply since the CEB has to install the spare transformer available with them to absorb the full power capacity. Siyambalapitiya was addressing the media at the Biyagama Receiving Station premises yesterday. The minister earnestly requested the people to cooperate with the government at this juncture.
With the burst, the Norochcholai power supply totally failed plunging the entire country into darkness. The cause is that the national grid was directly connected to Norochcholai in 2011. Earlier, it came through various other substations minimising failures.
“As a precautionary measure we are now planning to build another substation adjoining Norochcholai which would absorb the shock that may occur in case of a technical defect in other power plants in the country. This is an unusual situation and sabotage has not been ruled out. We did not know the actual cause for the burst. Under normal circumstances power outage could happen due to a natural or technical fault. Since it is difficult to explain, we have called in the Police and the government analyst to determine the cause for the disruption. We have now requested the military to provide full security to all the installations connected to the national grid as a precautionary measure,” the minister said.
“Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called for an immediate probe into the repeated power failures by appointing a special committee and I appointed another external committee consisting of experts in the field and a internal committee of well experienced senior engineers of the CEB to look into the matter,” he said.
” We are now studying some of the reports submitted by these committees and some reports are yet to be received. We are planning to reappoint these committees to also probe into Sunday’s power failure and submit a joint report on these power failures. I also directed the ministry secretary to get the assistance of foreign experts whenever necessary,” Siyambalapitiya said.
The minister added that power cuts less than one hour duration would be inevitable within the next three or four days in several parts of the country due to the automatic shutdown of the Norochcholai Power Plant.
An unusual happening: Ajith
Addressing the media at the Biyagama Receiving Station yesterday, Power and Renewable Energy Deputy Minister
Ajith P. Perera said that prior to this they did not seriously consider the possibility of sabotage when repeated power failures occurred within the last six months.
“Although we had suspicions, we always considered about the technical side of the issue. But considering the unusual and unexpected incidents that occurred recently, we have directed our attention towards a criminal investigation process apart from the scientific and engineering investigations,” the Deputy Minister said.
“We have paid special attention with regard to the criminal responsibility and also to determine whether it was an attempt at sabotage. So for the first time in the history we have called in the Police and the government analyst to determine the cause for the power failure,” Perera added.
He said Sri Lanka is the only country in the South Asian region which provides an uninterrupted power supply 24 hours of the day. Due to the dedication of CEB workers, Sri Lanka was able to achieve this success, the deputy minister said.
Since the island wide power failures are a threat to National Security, as the Defence Minister of the Country the President has taken measures to ensure the security of the installations.
CEB Chairman not going
Power and Energy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya yesterday said that he has refused to accept the resignation
letter of Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) chairman Anura Wijepala following Sunday’s nationwide blackout.
He said that the country needs the services of Anura Wijepala as he is a well qualified expert in the field of power and energy who worked as a senior lecturer in electrical engineering at the Faculty of Engineering of the Moratuwa University.
CEB Chairman Wijepala yesterday said that though the national grid is directly connected to Norochcholai by connecting all the power generation activities of various substations such as Embilipitiya, Puttalam, Matara and Horana, it was questionable whether the system was ready to face this change.
“Currently we are experiencing an abnormal behaviour at the Norochcholai power plant while there is a change in the system. This abnormal situation caused the island wide blackout,” he said.
He said that the burst in a tap changer (diverter switch) in Biyagama receiving station has been identified as a cause of the Sunday’s islandwide blackout and they have never experienced such type of burst earlier. It was a huge burst since its internal accessories had been thrown away more than 40-50 feet.
This was also caused due to an abnormal behaviour at the Norochcholai power plant. The power failed around 2.30 pm yesterday and gradual restoration of services resumed after three hours in Colombo and Kandy, but it was limited only for few minutes.
At the time of going to press, power had been restored in some parts of the country, said the Chairman adding that the shortcomings in the prevailing power supply system had resulted in the delay in the restoration.
“The decision to resign from the post was taken after considering the shortcomings prevailing in the system and the inability to give an assurance to the people of this country claiming there won’t be any failures,” Wijepala said.
He said the power supply to the Southern Province is also a challenge to the CEB since they cannot maintain the required voltage.
Electrical engineer’s nightmare
What happened on Sunday is every electrical engineer’s nightmare, a professor of electrical engineering claimed.
The cause for Sunday’s all island power failure and explosion of a transformer in a critical substation of the national transmission grid is a very difficult situation to handle under any circumstances, Peradeniya University Professor in Electrical and Electronic Engineering Prof. Janaka Ekanayake said.
He said in a situation like this, the system is unable to handle the power supply that comes in from different plants in the country and automatic re-routing will take place.
The rerouting may have resulted in over current of some of the feeders which would result in tripping of more lines, which would have aggravated the situation.
The transformer equipment that was damaged is not easily available and is expensive, and would even take as much as a month to repair and bring back to normal, Prof. Ekanayake said. Added to this, Norochcholai, the country’s coal power plant takes at least three days to recommence power generation following a shut down of operations. The plant which generates 900 mega watts to the national grid has tripped at the same time which caused the blackout yesterday. The reason for this tripping is not yet known.
“We could have avoided the situation if it was only the transformer explosion that occurred yesterday. It was the shut down in Norochcholai that caused the blackout,” another expert in the field who wished to be anonymous claimed.
On two earlier occasions this year such incidents resulted in power shortages and unannounced power cuts all over the island. The power shortage from the previous island wide power outage was only rectified last week.