Last week, power cuts in crisis-hit Sri Lanka was increased from one hour and 20 minutes to two hours and 20 minutes, due to a decrease in power generating capacity.
On Monday, a senior Sri Lankan official blamed poor-quality oil imports for the lengthier power cuts -- an allegation which the island country's energy minister has refuted.
Janaka Ratnayake, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), said that the newly imported stock of crude oil contains a high rate of sulfur, which cannot be used for the production of electricity at existing power plants in the country.
"[The] Sulfur content is too high in the furnace oil [fuel oil] which is not suitable for the current power plants and it's also not conforming with environmental standards," Ratnayake told the BBC, adding that, "If you buy good quality crude oil for refineries, then this problem will not happen."
Defending the country's existing energy import policy, Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara said that the power cut was extended because of a breakdown at one of the hydro-power stations and insufficient funds for diesel and fuel oil, adding that the country's state-run fuel distributor, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, would pursue unspecified legal action against Ratnayake.
Following this, on Tuesday morning, PUCSL issued a statement warning of the possible lengthening of the ongoing 2-hour-and-20-minute outages by “several hours” after the third unit at the Norochocholai had to be shut down.
Minister Wijesekara tweeted a short while later that the breakdown was due to a steam leak and that fuel power plants will be used to manage power generation in the mean time.
Repairs are expected to take three to five days, he said. The minister did not comment on whether power cuts will be longer.
Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of the gravest economic crisis in the country's independent history.
Large-scale protests against economic mismanagement, corruption, and human rights abuses since March 2022, forced the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which led to Ranil Wickremesinghe becoming president on July 21.
The economic crisis has resulted in declines in electricity, fuel and cooking gas consumption, resulting from shortages. Long queues have formed in recent months in front of petrol filling stations. The surge in global oil prices further aggravated the fuel shortage.
In order to conserve energy, daily power cuts have been imposed by the authorities throughout the country. Daily seven hour power cuts were seen throughout March 2022, increased to 10 hours at the end of the month and again increased to 15 hours in early April. As of July 2022, the daily power cuts were reduced to 3 hours a day.
The new government has been negotiating with foreign creditors to restructure debts on which Sri Lanka defaulted in May, and with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout.
Sri Lanka reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for an emergency loan of US$2.9 billion and it expects the deal to be approved by the IMF board by the end of this year.