Power outages sweep Sri Lanka amid worst financial crisis in decades

Special Power outages sweep Sri Lanka amid worst financial crisis in decades
A child studies besides a lit candle at her residence during a power cut in Biyagama, a suburb of the capital Colombo, on February 2, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 02 February 2022

Power outages sweep Sri Lanka amid worst financial crisis in decades

Power outages sweep Sri Lanka amid worst financial crisis in decades
  • Power cuts, lasting up to 7 hours, sweeping across island nation
  • High foreign debt, low reserves and pandemic shutdowns causing economic slowdown

COLOMBO: Power outages will continue in Sri Lanka through the scorching summer despite emergency efforts by authorities, a top engineer at the Ceylon Electricity Board said on Wednesday, as the country faces its most serious financial crisis in decades.

With high foreign debt, low foreign reserves and the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka has run out of money to purchase fuel and is teetering on the brink of full-blown, daily power outages that could severely hamper income-generating and academic activities.

As the highly transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly in the country, many workplaces and schools have closed to avoid mass infection. But students, teachers and those working from home have found it hard to cope with unannounced power cuts sweeping the whole island nation, which sometimes last up to seven hours at a time.

Saumya Kumarawadu, president of the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers’ Union, told Arab News that even if the fuel problem is fixed, interruptions to electricity supplies would continue despite assurances by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka, the industry regulator, that problems have been addressed.

“Whether the fuel crisis is averted, or technical issues at the power plants are fixed, decreasing hydropower will continue to affect power generation,” he said, as Sri Lanka enters the hottest months of the year.

Public Utilities Commission chairman Janaka Rathnayaka said that the outages were due to increased power consumption and a “malfunction” at the Lakvijaya plant, the country’s largest power station.

“Despite our requests that the public use electricity sparingly, consumption increased by nearly 200 megawatts yesterday,” Rathnayake told Arab News on Wednesday. “In addition to this, a generator at Lakvijaya broke down.”

It is estimated that the breakdown at Lakvijaya cost the national grid 200 megawatts of power. An additional 190 megawatts was lost due to low fuel supplies at the Sojitz Kelanitissa power plant and the Barge Mounted Power Plant at Colombo Port.

Rathnayake said that the technical problems have now been fixed and that further outages would be averted, as the regulator asked the Ceylon Electricity Board to make use of standby generators belonging to private companies.  

But according to the electricity board’s Kumarawadu, while some private stakeholders had agreed to lend their generators for free, the majority were not as forthcoming, “even with the CEB offering to purchase power from them at the rate of 36 Sri Lankan rupees (18 US cents) per kilowatt hour.”