Norochcholai Coal Power Plant

Sri Lanka’s first coal fired thermal power plant and the largest power station is implemented as a venture of Ceylon Electricity Board with the aid of EXIM Bank of the Republic of China. Located 100m inland from the shoreline, the construction was undertaken by the CMEC (China Machinery Engineering Corporation) and the total estimated cost of the project was USD 1.35 billion. The contract for the project was signed in 2006 and the first phase of the power plant, 300 MW was commissioned in 2011. The second phase completed adding another 300 MW in 2014 while the third phase added another 300 MW, making the total power generated through the Norochcholai power plant 900 MW. The first phase also included the construction of a 115km transmission line that connected the power plant to the national grid through the Veyangoda substation. A jetty that extended 4.2km into the ocean was also constructed. Nearby villages include Narakkalli and Penaiyadi on the Kalpitiya peninsula.

Environmental Impact Assessment for NCPP

The Environmental Impact Assessment process itself has several shortcomings – which also contributes to the burdens on people and the environment. This includes a failure to mandate permissible impact due to multiple industries in the same locality and polluting plants that are operated for a very long time.   

There have been many unplanned shutdowns and failures far more than would normally be the case. At NCPP, there is no monitoring of the impacts of unplanned shutdowns and start-ups by the regulators.  

After the plant was constructed there should have been reports on how well the EIA had captured the impacts. the monitoring as required by the EIA during its subsequent operations were not followed outside the plant. 

These shortcomings were pointed out by among others the first author in 2002 (Zubair, 2002) based on his work as an EIA trainer at the National EIA training programs conducted by the Centre for Environmental Studies at the University of Peradeniya.

Air Quality Monitoring Around Puttalam 

After understanding the shortfalls in environmental compliance of continuous site-specific measurements, installed an instrument to measure airborne fine particulates (pm2.5 and pm10) every few minutes in the village of Narakkali which is to the West of the power plant.  

Initially, we installed the instruments in a sheltered location and were able to obtain readings from March to April of 2018. Thereafter, the instrument was moved to a location which was better exposed and it broke down. The dust in the instrument electronics was visible.  

The data from the March to April period showed that the village was exposed (even indoors) at levels exceeding the national standards. 

During March of 2018, it was reported that the Electro-Static Precipitator (ESP) Unit was partially dysfunctional. Unit 1 of the plant was shut down to repair the ESP from April 11-21 official and the readings show a dramatic drop from April 8 to 21st. This drop shows that the  NCPP is the dominant driver of local air pollution during that period. 

Figure 1:  Fine particulate data ( pm2.5) obtained at Narakkali every few minutes.

In 2019, we installed four more instruments to the North (Illanthandiya/Norochcholai town and Serrakuliya) and South of the NCPP (Nirmalapura) and further West across the lagoon in Puttalam town and to the South-East in Kurunegala. We have been able to obtain data for some months so far. There is some consistency between the measurements in Puttalam thus giving us confidence in our measurements. Figure 2 shows the comparison in the recent periods for neighboring locations – Nirmalapura, Illanthandiya, Serrakuliya – for the latter months of 2019. Here too the permissible pollution levels were exceeded during some periods.  

We have also installed weather stations across the region to better interpret the transport of air pollution.

Figure 2: comparison in the recent periods for neighboring locations – Nirmalapura, Illanthandiya, Serrakuliya