Chinese blame CEB

Chinese engineers involved in the construction of the Norochcholai coal power plant have refused to accept the blame over the recent breakdown.

In a press statement, the  Chief Engineer of the Norochcholai coal power plant, Zhao Wenxue said that the main cause of the breakdown was that the power plant was forced to work beyond its required limits.

“According to normal practice in China, a thermal plant should undergo a one month maintenance period annually. Only then can the unit be more reliable and efficient and expected to perform well. With the lack of rain and in an attempt to avoid burdening the public with power cuts the CEB had decided to postpone the annual maintenance of the Norochcholai coal power plant,” he said in the statement.  (See full statement below)



Chinese not to blame for Norochcholai breakdown


Despite mounting criticism from certain sectors in Sri Lanka, the Norochcholai coal power plant project, once fully complete, will hugely benefit not just the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) but the general public as well.

Fingers have been pointed and accusations have been raised against China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) over the recent breakdown at the power plant, the first coal power plant in Sri Lanka. However most of these accusations are unfair and have no basis or truth.


History of Norochcholai Power Plant


Since the year 1996 the Ceylon Electricity Board incurred massive expenses to generate electricity and emergency electricity had to be purchased from overseas to meet the growing public demand for electricity.

The dependency on purchasing electricity from overseas was mainly attributed to the fact that Sri Lanka, at the time, did not have a low cost coal power plant. The end result saw ever increasing tariffs which was a burden on the consumer and also the government coffers.

A solution to the issue was not reached till late 2005. The President of Sri Lanka His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, after taking office, immediately realized the need to construct a coal power plant and he entrusted the task of fulfilling this need to the Ministry of Power and Energy and the Ceylon Electricity Board.

The government however neither had its own funds nor was it able to secure traditional International and bilateral loans to build the much needed coal power plant.

Hence the Government had to look for different possibilities and one of such possibility was to initiate government to government dialog between friendly neighboring giants.  The government of China came forward to fund and assist in constructing the coal power plant at Norochcholai.

The EXIM bank of China provided a preferential loan of USD 300 Million for the first phase of the project and USD 891 Million for the second phase.


Norochcholai Coal Power Plant Contract and construction


China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) awarded the contract for the Phase I of the Project which was to generate 300 MW of coal fired power.

The contract, which included constructing the infrastructure facilities, jetty and the transmission line, was signed in March 2006. The government of China provided the required financing of USD 455 million through the Chinese EXIM bank. The foundation stone was laid in 2006 and the CEB, after carrying out the relocation of the families from the proposed land for the project, handed over the land to CMEC to construct the power plant.

We mobilized our teams to build the power station in July 2007. On a request made by His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka following the ground breaking ceremony, the Government of China, persuaded us to build this power station one year ahead of the contractually agreed date of completion. We agreed and mobilized our teams including a skilled workforce for early completion of the project ahead of the scheduled date.

After the successful completion of this gigantic project it was ceremonially declared open by H.E President Mahinda Rajapaksa in March 2011 and subsequently electricity was added to the national grid ahead of the scheduled date of January 2012.

Both the CMEC staff and the CEB staff had to face many hardships during the construction of the power plant. However that commitment to the project and hard work saw the coal power plant constructed ahead of time. Furthermore a 117 km long, 220,000V double circuit transmission line was also installed between Norochcholai and Veyangoda


Economic Analysis for the Project

During the past one year the plant had generated nearly 1,875 GWh to the national grid. Once the plant is fully completed it will add nearly 6,000,000 kWh (six million units) daily to the national grid thereby reducing the heavy cost to generate electricity to meet the national demand. The project will contribute17% of the total generating capacity of the country.


The following table describes the financial benefits from the project to Sri Lanka


                                                Option – Coal


Date project was handed over to the CEB 24th July 2011
Energy delivered to date since 1st May 2012 1.875billion kWh
Average cost of a unit (fuel cost only) 6.67 Rs./kWh


Total cost for generation from coal 12.506Rs.billion


Option – High Cost thermal plants

Combined Cycle

Gas Turbine

(Fuel cost only. Before fuel price increase in 2012)15.79 Rs./kWh

25.93 Rs./kWh

80% energy from AES & KCCP 20% from GT7Cost to generate the same energy above (80% from combine cycle,20% from GTs)Rs. 33.4087billion


The estimated benefits to the CEB from the operation of the coal plant from May 2011 to August 2012 Rs. 20.9 billion

Recent Issues 

The Norochcholai coal power plant has been in the spotlight recently due to the breakdown and subsequent power cuts. The power plant project, which was praised at the beginning, is now facing severe criticism.

Coal power plants of this nature consist of systems, sub systems, auxiliaries and various other operational functions which naturally face technical issues from time to time when the generation capacity changes and the plant is shut down temporarily and reactivated again.

Some of the technical aspects of such a plant also need to be maintained and repaired while the plant is in operation. It must be noted that the Norochcholai coal power plant has been in commercial operation since March 2011, which indicates a nearly one and half year operational period.

According to normal practice in China, a thermal plant should undergo a one month maintenance period annually. Only then can the unit be more reliable and efficient and expected to perform well.

The lack of rain at the hydro catchment areas in Sri Lanka over the past several months posed a threat to the power generation around the island. The Norochcholai coal power plant was forced to work beyond its required limits and keep supplying electricity to the whole country.  With the lack of rain and in an attempt to avoid burdening the public with power cuts the CEB had meanwhile decided to postpone the annual maintenance of the Norochcholai coal power plant.

The breakdown at the Norochcholai coal power plant was caused by a combination of these events. The Norochcholai coal power plant had past all the performance tests and it was in operation continuously from February 2012 till end of July 2012.

Questioning the quality of the equipment used in the project and pointing fingers at CMEC is without basis.  The Norochcholai coal power plant is not as bad as one makes it look. It is just overused, tired and needs a break to rest like any other equipment does.

CMEC engineers have been working round the clock together with the CEB to rectify the issues at Norochcholai. Once the issues are rectified, as per a request made by the CEB, the plant will be handed over to be operated fully by the local staff.


Mr. Zhao Wenxue

Chief Engineer –  Norochcholai coal power plant

Deputy Chief Engineer – Northwest Electric Power Design Institute 

August 22 – 2012