The first phase of a Chinese-built coal power plant at Norocholai on the western coast of Sri Lanka was inaugurated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday evening.
The 300 MW plant is the second major infrastructure project built with Chinese finance and engineers to be opened in the island nation since the end of 2010; the first phase of a port at the southern town of Hambantota was inaugurated in November by Rajapaksa.
The power plant, built by China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation with a 450 million US dollar loan from China's EXIM Bank, will eventually be expanded to 900 MW.
The induction of the plant is likely to help power generation grow by 11%. Rajapaksa has promised that the remaining 600 MW will be integrated with thenational grid by 2014. Currently, according to government data, 87% of the 21 million- population has access to electricity.
The plant, started during 2006, has not been without its share of controversies with environment groups warning of the potential pollution hazards that a coal plant could trigger. A fire had also broken out in the plant few months ago.
But past controversies didn't stop Rajapaksa from saying that the completion of the first phase was proof his $6 billion development drive to reinvigorate the post-war economy could help reintegrate a nation split by war.
"Some people believe they should stage protests to prevent investors coming into the country. We have got back many things we were to lose or we lost, and this is one example of that," Rajapaksa said at the opening.
China is gladly extending a helping hand and has emerged as the country’s biggest donor. It is aiding Sri Lanka in several projects like the Katunayake Expressway, extension of the railway line from Matara to Kataragama, and building the Centre for the Performing Arts in Colombo. Chinese companies have not only invested in electronics, infrastructure projects, garment-making, the Lankan government has set up a free-trade zone for the companies as well.