The construction of coal-fired power plants by the Ministry of Electric Power violates the national energy policy (NEP), said Aung Myint, secretary of the Renewable Energy Association Myanmar (REAM).
“The National Energy Management Committee has set a nine-point policy. The first point says the country must rely on local resources. The country does not have sufficient coal for power generation. This goes against the first point, as Myanmar will have to import it. The policy also says the country shall better manage local resources that are available. Energy must be ‘sustainable energy.’ The country must encourage the use of renewable energy sources. There should be energy efficiency,” he said.
Recently, the Ministry of Electric Power signed MoUs on the development of coal-fired power plants and hydropower plants with 11 companies, of which several are Thai and Chinese. These projects face strong public opposition.
“Take a look at the project in Yay, Taninthayi Region, where a large amount of power is likely to go to the Dawei Industrial Zone and to Thailand. Under the country’s energy policy, power generation should be for local consumption. So this contradicts the energy policy. In practice, the Energy Ministry is developing the National Mixed Energy Plan in consultation with the World Bank. The fact of whether the projects are economical will be decided at the parliament. The country will have to import coal if these projects are to produce the megawatts they have claimed before,” said Aung Myint.
“Myanmar needs to be aware of the fact that China plans to close around 5,000 coal-fired power plants in the coming year,” said Than Tun, an activist from the Myanmar Forest Association.
“The government has already inked MoUs on the construction of around 9 or 10 coal-fired power plants across the country. It needs to take account of the advantages and disadvantages. The crucial point is that people should not bear the brunt of it. The Chinese premier pledged at the APEC summit that China would stop around 5,000 coal-fired power plants by 2015 in an attempt to reduce the use of coal. We need to keep a watchful eye on it. It is impossible for China to close those plants that generate power without any substitutions,” he added.
Eleven coal-fired power projects are planned as part of the policy to increase electrification rate, to be located in Tanintharyi, Yangon, Ayeyawady, and Sagaing regions and Shan state and another unspecified place.
According to sources from Ministry of Electrical Power, even though 11 coal-fired power projects are being considered, no project has yet been approved. Nonetheless, residents and environmentalists are concerned about the possibility of these projects going forward.
Environmentalists fear dangers which include issues such as land use, waste management and water and air pollution. In addition to atmospheric pollution, coal burning produces hundreds of millions of tons of solid waste products annually, including fly ash, bottom ash, and flue-gas desulfurisation sludge, which contain mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic, and other heavy metals. The release of these materials can lead to heart disease, urinary diseases, damage to the nervous system, brain tumours, kidney diseases, lung cancer, hypertension and eye problems.
Yet, some argue that coal plants are necessary to fill Myanmar’s demand for electricity. Some have recommended that the government consider using clean coal technology to reduce the impact on environment, but this is apparently beyond the means of the government. The involved companies have not revealed what techniques they will use to process the coal.