Thai-Backed Power Plants in Burma Face ‘Difficulties’ Getting Coal

By William Boot 4 September 2014

Proposals by Thailand-based companies to build large coal-burning power plants in Burma might prove hard to implement because of logistical difficulties in delivering adequate fuel supplies, an industry newspaper said.

Two plants have been proposed in eastern Burma with a total electricity generating capacity of 3,780 megawatts—more than the country’s present overall capacity.

One plant is earmarked for Ye Township in Mon State and the other for Mergui in Tenasserim Division.

“Myanmar has limited coal reserves and a big expansion of coal generating capacity would have to use imported coal. Ye is close to the Andaman Sea but also a long way via Singapore and the Strait of Malacca from big supplier countries like Indonesia,” said Asia Power Monitor.

The newspaper also pointed out that the regions where the two plants are proposed have no proper electricity distribution grid in place.

“Most of Myanmar’s electricity grid is in a corridor connecting Yangon and Mandalay,” it said.

The Ye plant, with a proposed generating capacity of 1,280 megawatts, is planned by the Bangkok-based Toyo-Thai Corporation, a joint venture of Toyo Engineering Corporation of Japan and Thailand’s construction firm Ital-Thai Development (ITD).

The Mergui proposal, envisaging a much bigger 2,500-megawatt plant, comes from a consortium including Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding, Thailand’s biggest private power generator.

The volume of coal needed to fuel these two plants alone year round would be more than 10 million tons, energy industry sources told The Irrawaddy this week. And plants of that size would cost several billion dollars to build.

“Coal for power stations as large as these and where they are proposed would have to be imported by sea or road and I think the present infrastructure in Burma would have difficulties to handle it,” Bangkok energy industries journalist Sam Imphet told The Irrawaddy.

“Thailand and Burma do not have big coal reserves and what they have is quite low grade. A lot of Thai coal is lignite, which is quite polluting low energy-value brown coal.”

The largest coal bulk carrier ships hold 400,000 tons, but no port on Burma’s Andaman coast is capable of handling this size of vessel.

To ship 10 million tons of coal over a year by sea using smaller vessels would require at least one delivery per week, more if the power plant operators planned to build up a stockpile on site.

Sizeable power plants usually hold not less than 10 days operational supply in reserve, said Imphet, who writes for Asia Power Monitor.

People living near the sites of the two proposed coal power plants in Burma are objecting to the development on environmental grounds.

In Thailand there is also widespread opposition to the development of coal-burning projects. Plans to revive an 800-megawatt coal plant at Krabi, also facing the Andaman Sea on the Thai southwest coast, have met with mass protests.

A plan by ITD several years ago to build a 4,000-megawatt coal-fueled power station at Dawei was scuppered by the Naypyidaw government on environmental grounds. That plant was intended to provide energy for the long-delayed Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ), however, some opponents suggested that a large portion of the electricity generated would have been sent to Thailand.

The Toyo-Thai Corporation is already building a natural gas-fueled power station at the Thilawa SEZ near Rangoon. That project is intended to have a final generating capacity of 120 megawatts and began operating on 80 megawatts in 2013.

Ratchaburi Electricity is linked with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) in plans for several hydroelectric projects on the Salween River in eastern Burma that would have a combined 7,000 megawatts capacity. Much of this is intended to be sent across the nearby border into Thailand, EGAT has said.

Laos has become a supplier of electricity to Thailand by granting permission for the development of several large hydro-dam power plants on rivers, including the Mekong, in the face of strong opposition by international environment groups. EGAT is financing some of these plants.

EGAT has also been linked with the Dawei SEZ. The Japanese business news agency Nikkei reported some months ago that the Thai state agency has discussed teaming up with Mitsubishi of Japan to build a super power plant of 7,000 megawatts using a mix of coal and natural gas.

Since then, another Thai firm, Andaman Power & Utility, has claimed to have reached agreement with Burma’s Ministry of Energy for a 500-megawatt power plant in the SEZ.

The Dawei area still has a poor electricity supply.