Sri Lanka: Environmentalists raise heat over coal power plant emissions

The Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant in Norochcholai has been without a crucial environmental protection device for almost a month, resulting in the plant releasing sulphur dioxide levels above the national legal limit, environmentalists charge. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) however, counters that it is using ‘low sulphur coal’ and as such, the emissions are still within the legal limit.

The flue-gas desulphurizer (FGD) in Unit 2 of the 900 Megawatt plant has been out of action since August 25, when a fire occurred during a plant overhaul. The FGD removes sulphur dioxide from the flue gas. The national limit for sulphur dioxide emissions is 850 milligrams per Normalized Cubic Metre. With the FGD in Lakvijaya’s Unit 2 not working, the plant is discharging emissions that are above the legal limit, an environmentalist who spoke to the Sunday Times alleged.

The Environmental Protection Licence (EPL) issued to the plant by the Wayamba Provincial Environmental Authority (WPEA) specifies that it is ‘mandatory’ to manage the FGD with an efficiency of 99 percent to remove the sulphur dioxide. The WPEA has not renewed Lakvijaya’s EPL since June, last year.

By operating without an FGD, the plant also violates the agreement signed between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), WEPA and Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) to mitigate the environmental effects caused by the plant, it was further pointed out. Under the agreement, the CEB has agreed to ‘maintain the expected efficiency (of the FGD) at 99 percent and minimum efficiency at 95 percent.’ The agreement also notes that if the FGD devices are not fully operational within seven days, the plant shall be shut down until the devices are repaired.

Saman Lenaduwa, Acting Director of WEPA, told the Sunday Times they were currently reviewing their data from the plant. The plant’s management had claimed that the sulphur dioxide emissions were still within the legal limit as it was using ‘low sulphur coal.’ Mr Lenaduwa said the plant had complied with some of the conditions that had been laid down to renew its EPL. ‘We will analyse the data from the plant to check the sulphur levels for ourselves. We have also instructed them to repair the FGD,’ he added.

CEB Media Spokesman Sulakshana Jayawardena acknowledged the FGD was malfunctional, but stressed it had not resulted in emissions going beyond the legal limit.

Mr Jayawardena claimed that, though the CEB was legally allowed to import coal with sulphur content up to 1 percent, it was only importing coal with a sulphur content of 0.5 percent. ‘Lakvijaya’s emissions are still within the legal limit,’ Mr Jayawardena insisted. He however, said the CEB was working to repair the FGD and expected it to be fully operational in another two to three weeks.

‘If they can meet the standards without the FGD, there’s no need to ask for 99 percent efficiency and a seven day shutdown window in the agreement, nor should the CEB agree to it,’ countered the environmentalist.