Sri Lanka Probes China Coal Plant for Defective Materials Design

Sri Lanka is probing a Chinese built coal plant for possible material, design or construction defects, following leaks in a steam cooling unit, officials said.

Power minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said she had informed Chinese embassy officials at a meeting in Colombo that the builders had to bear responsibility for the latest breakdown and it was not good for China’s image.

Officials of Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board said it was not unusual for new power plants to be shut down often in the first few years of operations and it had happened in the case of hydro plants built by top Western firms in the past.

The 300MegaWatt coal plant in Norochcholai has had frequent breakdowns since it started two years ago, but the latest shut down has been caused by leaking pipes in the condenser, a major component which cools steam coming out of its turbine to be fed back into the boiler.

Power ministry secretary MMC Ferdinando said the condenser unit was expected to last 25 years or more but had developed leaks in a few years. The coal plant had been in operation for about three years.

CEB was investigating whether defective material, design on construction led to the leaks.

There were questions raised, including whether the tubes in the condenser were thick enough, officials said.

The plant was a design-build-transfer (DBT) project with Chinese financing.

Officials from China Mechanical and Engineering Corporation, which built the plant, were already in Colombo helping rectify the condenser.

CMEC chairman was due in Colombo for a meeting Friday, minister Wanniarachchi said.

CEB officials said assurances had been given that the condenser would be fixed at no cost to the CEB.

Ferdinando said under the contract with CMEC the plant should have been built according to international standards or equivalent or higher Chinese standards.

The coal plants reliability had improved over the past three years until the latest shut down.

CEB general manager Shavi Fernando said the availability factor which measures the time the machine is available for use had improved from around 60 percent in 2011 to 76 percent in 2013.

A coal plant is expected to be available and also operated at least 80 percent of the time.

But the plant is operated below its full availability to generate power, especially in the night, due to an internal CEB ceiling in the maximum size a single plant should be.