Norochcholai coal project site rejection, Chilaw Bishop gives reasons

Dec 31 (IL) Chilaw Bishop Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando says that he has never given his consent to Norochcholai coal power project.

Reacting to a statement Minister Karu Jayasuriya has reportedly made that he (the Bishop) has given his consent to the project, Bishop Fernando says; "What we are against is the choice of place, and not the use of coal power as such".

The Bishop says, among other things, engineering experts have pointed out that Norochcholai was totally unsuitable for techno - economic reasons.

Bishop Fernando says; "It has been brought to our notice that the Minister of Power and Energy, Karu Jayasuriya has recently stated at a public meeting that the Bishop of Chilaw had given his consent to the Norochcholai coal power plant project.

As I have never given my consent to this Project, and as I knew the Minister sufficiently well, I suspected that there had been some confusion some where, and I took the trouble to contact the Minister. He assured me that all that he had wanted to convey was that he had the perception that the Bishop of Chilaw would give his blessing to the Project. I explicitly asked him whether I could quote him, and he agreed. In fact, I read out the relevant portion of this letter referring to him, and he graciously stated that was the position. I am thankful to the Minister for this clarification.

It might be useful here to state briefly why we have opposed this Project all along, and continue to oppose it now. First, some general remarks.

What we are against is the choice of place, and not the use of coal power as such. While we had some reservations that the plant could adversely affect the venerable shrine of St. Anne, and the livelihood of the poor fishermen of the area, there were other overriding concerns besides. All the time we were in contact with engineering experts and economists who had the welfare of the country at heart. As dutiful citizens, we had to speak out, even at the risk of being misunderstood.

Now let me briefly state some of the major concerns.

1. The original sin regarding this Project is that Norochcholai - involving a dangerous and costly 4.2 km jetty or transshipment of coal in a monsoon ridden area and choppy seas - was the wrong place for this Project. The prestigious Japan Consulting Institute (JCI), which made an in depth study of various sites gave Norochcholai very low grades. "Master Divers" who examined the site on behalf of the consultants of the Project, taking their barges and equipment to carry out investigations, submitted a very negative report concerning sea bed conditions and monsoon weather that would drastically affect the transport of coal for a good part of the year (Incidentally, a few days ago, I contacted Mr. Ariyaseela Wickramanayake, Director of Master Divers. He said, "I am a patriot. I am prepared to go anywhere and state with facts that Norochcholai is a totally unsuitable place for a Coal Plant") The fishermen of the area migrate to the Eastern coast during the monsoon period because they cannot carry out fishing here. Plainly Norochcholai was a case of pushing to a marginalized area (Kalpitiya peninsula) a Project which nobody wanted in his own area.

2. From the beginning we have pointed out the security factor. The presently stalled peace process and sense of political instability adds poignancy to what we have been saying all along.

3. Engineering experts have pointed out that Norochcholai was totally unsuitable for techno-economic reasons. These experts have pointed out that in the event a coal power plant is constructed at the proposed site in Norochcholai, the cost of electricity generated form this power plant would be prohibitively high for the following reasons;
(a). the extremely high initial capital costs of special coal transferring and coal handling equipment necessary for this particular site.
(b). the very high operational costs of coal handling.
(c). The unavailability of coal for many months of the year due to bad weather prevailing in the locality.

4. The government of President Chandrika Bandaranaike and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe both have directed the authorities concerned to abandon the site at Norochcholai and to examine alternative sites which are techno-economically more suitable for this Project.

An argument put forward in favour of Norochcholai is that a large sum of money has already been spent on the Feasibility Report and that searching for other sites would involve more money and delay.

The problem is that the much wanted Feasibility Report itself is deeply flawed. Inter alia, it shelved the highly adverse Report of Master Divers. It dismissed in a few lines the security problem raised. It also took for granted a 4.2 Km. Jetty for coal transport - a proposal which has since been debunked. As for monies spent, should we really gulp down a bottle of poison simply because we have paid for it?

The unfortunate part of it is that although many years passed since the President, after having studied the Project, rejected it, no serious effort has been made by the relevant Authorities to find suitable alternative sites. Precious time was lost, and the country is paying for it.

The Norochcholai Project did not become bad because so many engineering and economic experts and religious Authorities stated that it was bad. Neither did the Project become bad because of the positions taken by both major political parties on this highly controversial project. It is the other way round. All these persons took a stand against it, because the site for the Project was bad.