The Ceylon Electricity Board said that an electricity supply crisis is likely if the first stage of a coal-fired power plant due to be built in the northwest of the island is not ready by 2004.

The plant, with an ultimate capacity of 900 MWe, is due to be built near the town of Kalpitiya in three stages, beginning in 2003, Reuters reports, and finishing in 2008.

However the project has met opposition from local residents and environmentalists. A feasibility study for the scheme has already been delayed pending approval from the Central Environmental Authority.

Sri Lanka currently relies heavily on hydropower for its electricity supply, making it extremely vulnerable to drought conditions such as struck in 1996. The CEB is now trying to diversify the source of supply.