Decks will be cleared soon for the take off of the 500-megawatt (MW) Sampoor thermal power project, a joint venture involving Sri Lanka and India, with the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) moving closer to giving the much-needed environmental clearance, The Hindu newspaper reported.
“At present, the evaluation committee is scrutinising a report on environment impact assessment (EIA). As soon as it is over, our Board of Directors will take a look at the matter, after which the clearance will be given,” U.K.D.G. Jayasinghe, Deputy Director General of the Environmental Management and Assessment Division (EMA) of the CEA, says.
Though he declines to give any specific time frame for the environmental clearance, he hints that it is only a matter of formality.
Located in the Eastern Province and about 275 km from Colombo, the proposed Sampoor power plant, estimated to cost $ 512 million, will be coal fired. It has been proposed as part of a joint venture between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the NTPC of India on 50:50 basis. An Indian official says there is no stipulation that coal has to be imported from India.
At present, the total installed power generation capacity of Sri Lanka is approximately 4,050 megawatt (MW), of which the share of coal-fired thermal power plants is 900 MW. On commissioning, the proposed Sampur plant will be next to the 600-MW Norochcholai coal-fired thermal power plant in terms of capacity. The Norochcholai plant has come up with Chinese assistance. The electricity demand in Sri Lanka grows by four per cent to six per cent annually.
Sampoor has also been in news for another reason – resettlement of Tamils, who were displaced in 2006 during the Eelam War. The restoration of 818 acres of land to the Tamils in the area was an important issue at the time of Presidential elections early this year and the regime change facilitated it, after overcoming legal obstacles. In August, President Maithripala Sirisena and his predecessor, Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike, went to Sampoor to inaugurate the resettlement formally.
But, this development raised questions on the future of the project, as it was originally not factored in to the EIA report, which was submitted to the CEA in February. One more issue – the impact of discharge of coolant water from the plant on the marine eco-system – also came under focus subsequently.
“All these issues have now been addressed and we have held discussions with the CEB,” Mr Jayasinghe points out.
Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board, Anura Wijayapala, who also heads the Trincomalee Power Company Limited [a special purpose vehicle for the project], feels that the project would now have been under implementation had the NTPC done EIA properly about two years ago. The Indian power utility had prepared the initial EIA report, which was rejected by the Authority. Consequently, using a local consultant, another EIA report was prepared. In the process, the timetable for the commissioning of the project was delayed by two years – from January 2018 to January 2020, Mr Wijayapala adds.
The NTPC, approached by this reporter for its version, did not send its reply.