China-funded power plant transforms towns in Sri Lanka



A.W Rajarathna, a resident of Puttalam, situated in the northwestern province of the country, is a happy man today. After suffering years due to the shortage of electricity in his small home, he now gets an uninterrupted supply making his life easier.

"Today, kerosene lamps have been replaced by electric lights glowing in the dark," Rajarathna said with a welcoming smile. A farmer, he lives with his wife and 14-year-old daughter in the Minya Village, in Narakkalliya, Puttalam, a small village where 12 other families reside.

Rajarathna's house is very closely situated to the Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant, more popularly known as the Puttalam Coal Power Plant Project, which is the reason for the constant electricity supply to this province. Today, having commissioned and connected to the national grid, the project provides more than 50 percent of the power supply to the country and has facilitated a drastic reduction in electricity charges.

The project, which was funded by the Chinese government and built by China Machinery Engineering Corporation(CMEC) has not only created a smooth flow of electricity but has also changed the face of Puttalam, which was once struggling to develop.

Situated in the Kalpitiya peninsula, Puttalam is approximately 120 km from the capital of Colombo. Flanked by the blue sea on one side and the heavenly blue sky above, the city is also covered with lush greenery. Agricultural land covers the hard soil, making for a fresh and eco-friendly environment all around.

Roads have now been expanded and carpeted and along with the Puttalam town having seen a full transformation, a massive development has also been notable in the country side, where farmers are reaping the benefits of the coal power plant.

"Today, the narrow and muddy pathways have become broad, carpeted roads. Throughout my life of 18 years in this village I have witnessed it develop because of the power plant. We are all reaping the benefits," Rajarathna said. His words were clearly evident from the lush cultivation on his one acre of land thanks to the steady flow of water to the land due to the low electricity costs.

Puttalam is an area famous for the cultivation of fruit, vegetables and other crops such as onions, tobacco, peppers, guava, papaw, watermelon and so on, and Rajarathna, who lives in a newly- built house owns about 1 acre of land on which he grows many fruit and vegetables hoping always for a successful harvest.

Furthermore, Rajarathna explained that the local community previously feared that the power plant would generate negative environmental effects and destroy the blissful nature. However he confidently stated that no such harm had been caused and in contrast, agriculture had developed daily with the cost reduction of power.

"A village that had no electricity, quality road systems, continuous monthly income and such like, is now flourishing day by day after the construction of the Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant and we are indeed grateful for the project. Now our lives are at ease and engaging in our day to day activities has become highly convenient and fruitful," he said.

The Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant has also created many job opportunities in the area. Rajarathna's wife is an employee at the power plant and earns a steady income, which she says is "much needed" for such low income families.

As we entered the Puttalam city, an owner of a local grocery store admitted that because of the coal power plant, they did not witness long hours of power cuts that lasted for up to 10 hours continuously in the past.

Businesses too have rapidly developed, with one example being the fly ash laboratory office of Tokyo Cement, where fly ash waste has become a treasure today. K. K. D. Lakmal, the lab in-charge said that they too had reaped the benefits of the Lakvijaya Coal Power plant project.

Fly ash is a fine powder extracted as a bi-product of burning coal and with the supply of fly ash being used for the production of cement, savings have been monumental both financially and environmentally.

"Tokyo Cement is a major customer of fly ash released from the Coal Power Plant and contributes about 43 percent of the total production. Fly ash is a good quality, essential raw material for the production of special types of cement, like porcelain cement, fly ash blocks, ready mix concrete, land filling and so on," Lakmal explained.

"In the absence of fly ash in Sri Lanka before the construction of the plant, it was imported from India. But today the same could be purchased at a third of the previous cost creating for us a very big saving, which we are able to then pass on to our customers," Lakmal added.