Sri Lanka Treasury currently bears the massive cost of street lighting from the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Lanka Electricity Company (LECO) after local government institutions lacked funds to pay for this, Finance Ministry sources said.
Street lights are a public service that should be provided by the local government institutions including municipalities but this has been taken over by the CEB/LECO except in the Colombo MC. For nearly 500,000 street lights at the rate of Rs. 15/60 for 12 hours the annual cost is Rs. 10.33 billion, a Finance Ministry official said.
Minister of Power and Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka said that out of the 700,000 street lights across the island only 500,000 are legal all other lights are unauthorized. He added, "the government is spending Rs. 200 per day to maintain a 250 kilowatts street light. A street lamp is consuming around 150 megawatt hours per month". In an effort to tackle the power wastage the Minister has proposed that street lights should be restricted to 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.
He has made this suggestion to the local government bodies to assist the CEB to avoid power crisis as well as curtailing the CEB expenses, he added.
However according to Finance ministry sources, the CEB/LECO in their roles as utility providers has resorted to billing the Treasury for lamp poles regardless of whether they are working or not.
Given the fact that local government institutions including municipalities are in a dire financial state, street lamp maintenance is not consistent with public utility leaving many streets in the dark at night. Even under this setup the Treasury has been called to pay for lights that are not lit at night.
This was a well known fact with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Ministry of Power and Energy yet no action is taken by them to bring metered billing for street lighting to save public money without passing 3% of that burden to the public, an energy expert who wished to remain anonymous told the Business Times.
He said that the fraudulent billing practice to the Treasury must end.
The solution lies with bringing energy efficiency to street lights by PUC authorizing the local government institutions including municipalities to take over the maintenance of their own street lights instead of passing the bill to the Treasury. Right now there is no incentive for any municipality to move towards energy efficiency, and that policy must change, he added.