India is likely to set up a Liquefied Natural Gas-fuelled 500 MW power plant at Kerawalapitiya on the Western coast of Sri Lanka as requested by the Lankan government, authoritative sources told The New Indian Express here on Monday.
On environmental grounds, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is keen on switching over to LNG from coal as fuel for its future power plants.
During his last visit to India, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena had requested Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to proceed with the 500 MW coal-fired power plant at Sampur in Eastern Sri Lanka but build a plant using LNG instead. Modi said that he would discuss the matter with his officials.
According to sources, an Indo-Sri Lankan Joint Working Group (JWG) has been working on various options in this regard. The Lankan side has proposed that an LNG-fuelled 500 MW plant be set up at Kerawalapitiya, just north of Colombo, where there is already 300 MW LNG-fuelled plant set up during the regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Kerawalapitya is a better location to set up an LNG-fuelled plant than Sampur because it is on the Western coast and therefore nearer Qatar, a major source of LNG. Like Sampur, it is also on the coast which enables it to use sea water for cooling.
According to experts, an LNG plant will be less costly than a coal-fired plant partly because LNG price is currently low in the international market. And increasing production is expected to keep the price low. Apart from countries in West Asia, the US and Canada are also into LNG production in a significant way. Spot buying can be done at Singapore and Malyasia also.
It is not clear if the Kerawalapitya plant will be run by a new Indo-Lankan organization or executed by the already existing Trincomalee Power Company (TPC), a joint venture of India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) which is to build and run the coal-fired power plant at Sampur.
Since President Sirisena has told Modi that the NTPC could build the LNG-fuelled plant at Sampur, and the NTPC has the capability to do so, the NTPC is likely to be involved in the Kerawalapitiya plant also.
However, the issue of changing over from coal to LNG at Sampur is yet to be resolved. There is a lobby in both Lanka and India saying that coal should not be given up. Much spade work has already been done in regard to the Sampur plant. As one source put it, switching over LNG will mean starting from scratch and doing an Environmental Impact Study once again. The plant has been on the drawing board for six years already.
As for the Kerawalapitya LNG-fuelled plant, it can be set up in a time span of two or three years, an expert said.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reported that China Mechanical and Engineering Company (CMEC), which has already built a coal-fired plant in Sri Lanka, is to build a 500 MW LNG-fired plant in Hambantota in South Lanka.
China has been wanting Sri Lanka to be part of its ambitious 21 st Century Maritime Silk Road project, linking various ports across the globe, and Sri Lanka has enthusiastically agreed to be part of it. The attractive part is that the project includes massive hinterland development also.