Power cuts in Sri Lanka blamed on bad oil

COLOMBO — A senior Sri Lankan official has blamed imports of poor-quality crude oil for shutting down a power station, leading to prolonged outages.

The head of the utilities regulator, Janaka Ratnayake, said the oil burned in the furnaces contained too much sulphur.

But the country’s energy minister disputed the claim.

Last week, Sri Lanka increased its daily power cut from 80 minutes to 140 minutes due to a drop in power generation capacity.

“The sulfur content is too high in fuel oil [fuel oil] which is not suitable for today’s power stations nor does it meet environmental standards,” Ratnayake, the head of the Public Utilities Commission, told the BBC.

“If you buy good quality crude oil for refineries, this problem will not occur.”

Ratnayake said about 10% of the country’s electricity comes from diesel and oil-fired power plants. The rest of the electricity is generated from hydroelectric, renewable and coal-fired plants.

But Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara defended the crude oil import policy.

In a tweet, he said Sri Lanka’s state-run fuel retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corporation would legally respond to Ratnayake’s allegations.

According to Wijesekara, the power cut was extended due to a breakdown in one of the hydroelectric plants and insufficient funds for diesel and fuel oil.

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The South Asian nation is facing its worst financial crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. It is struggling to find enough dollars to import fuel and food.

The shortages have led to months of anti-government protests and long lines outside gas stations.

In July, the unrest came to a head when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was forced to flee the country and then resign after thousands of protesters stormed his official residence.

Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was later elected president by MPs.

Since then, the government has implemented a fuel rationing system using a QR code that has reduced queues outside gas stations.

Sri Lanka has reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $2.9bn (£2.7bn) emergency loan and expects the deal to be approved by the board of the IMF by the end of this year.

But the conditions include Colombo reaching an agreement with its creditors on debt restructuring. Sri Lanka has an external debt of around $50 billion. —BBC

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