After Locals Block Coal Plant Survey, Mitsubishi Promises Japan Study Trip

By Salai Thant Zin & Sean Gleeson 3 February 2015

PATHEIN — Residents of Irrawaddy Division’s Ngapudaw Township blocked a land survey for a planned coal-fired power station over the weekend, prompting a senior executive involved in the project to promise villagers a trip to Japan as guests of Mitsubishi Group, revealing one of the previously unnamed Japanese conglomerates backing the project.

Employees of the A1 Group of Companies were met by more than 200 residents of the coastal region of Nga Yoke Kaung and left the area before completing survey work, after being told the project did not have local support.

“People from our village told the people from A1 not to conduct a survey without the consent of local people, after we saw them conducting a survey on the sandbank near our village,” said Nga Yoke Kaung villager Saw Kaw. “More than 200 locals gathered there and pressed the demand, then the company stopped their work and went back.”

A1 Group managing director Kyaw Kyaw said that the survey was just an initial feasibility study and not a comprehensive land assessment to build the coal plant.

“We are just conducting a survey on geographical location, terrain, houses, forests and plantations. There is plenty of work to be done before building the plant,” he said.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Kyaw Kyaw said that A1 Group and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp would send representatives of the Nga Yoke Kaung community to visit and study coal-fired power plants in Japan in an effort to build support for the development.

“We’ll meet locals and explain the project to them. In addition, we are arranging to send Nga Yoke Kaung locals, probably five from each village in the region, to Japan to study coal power plants there,” he said.

The Ministry of Electric Power, the A1 Group of Companies and a consortium of Japanese companies announced in September that they would partner to build the Nga Yoke Kaung coal power plant, with a total installed capacity of 300 megawatts.

No details were provided about the Japanese companies involved in the project during a September meeting of Irrawaddy Division officials and A1 Group with Nga Yoke Kaung villagers. A Mitsubishi spokesman from the company’s Rangoon office confirmed the organization’s membership of the consortium and the Japan junket to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

“We will send them to understand the project,” the spokesman said. “We want to show them the coal-fired power plants there, which are built in towns and near houses without negative effects.”

Mitsubishi’s general trading arm, Mitsubishi Corp, has in recent years made a number of investments in regional coal power generation. Last October the company announced its partnership with two Thai companies to build a 1,800-2,000 megawatt plant in the Dawei special economic zone, and is currently involved in joint venture coal power station developments in southern Vietnam and the Philippines.

Local partner A1 Group has a diverse portfolio in manufacturing and construction, including a garment factory in Rangoon and an optical fiber factory in Pyin Oo Lwin. Its subsidiary A1 Construction built the Sakura Tower, Kanbawza Bank headquarters and the Chatrium Hotel in Rangoon, a raft of ministerial buildings in Naypyidaw and a number of rubber and teak plantations.

The Japanese consortium and A1 Group will fund 30 percent of the twin turbine power plant, with the remainder to be funded by loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, according to A1 Group chairman Yan Win. Neither organization has publicly committed to funding the project since the September announcement.

Coal for the plant will be imported from Indonesia and Australia, with A1 announcing that a deep sea port catering to bulk carriers of up to 80,000 tonnes capacity will be built next to the power station. India-based Ta Ta Co has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Burmese government to build another coal plant nearby, with a total installed capacity of 270 megawatts.

Around 200 acres of land will be required to build the power plant and compensation will be paid to affected villagers for farmland that needs to be relocated, said A1 Group, which issued a guarantee that the project would not harm the environment as it employed “advanced technologies”.

Despite the preliminary nature of the project, Nga Yoke Kaung locals have already voiced their concern about potential damage to the environment and the possibility of land confiscation and eviction.

“Every village along the coast has put up posters to say ‘we don’t want coal-fired power plant and we won’t move our village’,” said Mying Thaung, a resident of Kyaw Chaing village. “They stick them up at their houses, along the roads. I also stuck them up at my house and so has the rest of the village, so that anyone who reaches here knows our viewpoint.”

In November, Irrawaddy Division Chief Minister Thein Aung and Saw Mya Thein, the divisional minister for electricity and industry, told audiences in Pathein and Nga Yoke Kaung last November that the coal power plant would not be built if the local community opposed the project.

Additional reporting by San Yamin Aung.