The Irrawaddy reporter May Soe San talks to Aung Kyaw Oo, director of Yangon Electricity Supply Cooperation, about the recent power outages in Yangon, which now gets about 50 percent of its electricity from the national grid.
Can you explain the reason for the frequent outages in Yangon?
We are supplying power with old generators. Currently, only two of them are in service and they can each only produce 30 to 50 megawatts.
Two generators in Ahlone Township broke down a few days ago. Those generators, operated by an independent power producer [IPP], could supply 120 megawatts in total. That power station mainly supplies the west Yangon district, so we could not provide sufficient electricity in that area.
We have used IPP for five years. We provide them with gas and use their generators to generate electricity. We are currently operating with all available gas, but the quality of gas-fired power plants and production has declined. A new gas turbine will arrive by the end of May.
What measures has the new government taken to improve the power supply?
We’ve planned to install 150 small transformers as part of our 100-day plan.
Can you explain the causes of the system breakdown?
Electricity can be produced with hydropower, gas or coal. There is only one coal-fired power plant in Shan State and water resources are only in the northern part of the country. Electricity consumption is highest in Yangon, the commercial hub.
Yangon consumes half of the electricity produced in the country. When we deliver the electricity from the northern part of the country to the south, we have to deliver it through power lines. But there are no back-up power lines in some places and that leads to system breakdowns.
Normally, power lines carry 250 to 300 megawatts of electricity. If a line is down, the electricity from that line will flow into another line. Then, it gets overloaded and also breaks down.
Without a power station in Yangon, we can never have a stable power supply. If something happens in northern Myanmar, Yangon will be impacted. System breakdowns seriously impact the economy because they disturb business operations.
Gas power should be used in Yangon. It is cost effective and has less impact on the environment. But, our country does not have enough gas, so the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has suggested using coal.
We have to consider future energy demand and available resources before establishing a power system. Energy policy will determine the industrial and social development of the country.
Can you tell me about the assistance from Japan, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank to the electricity supply in Myanmar?
As far as ADB assistance, equipment has started arriving from them. JICA has agreed to provide loans to us, but they will hire their own consultant. The World Bank has provided US$400 million, of which the Electric Power Ministry will be allocated $310million and the other $90 million will go to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.
ADB has pointed out faults with the power lines. What measures are you taking to address this?
We are trying to fix the power lines, but it will take time. Underground cables have been in use since 1957. There were not many people or high-rise buildings then and those cables worked well. When high-rise buildings emerged, they were overstretched.
Currently, generators in Yangon can produce around 450 to 500 megawatts. This year, electricity consumption in Yangon is estimated to be around 1,200 megawatts. Last year, the highest amount of consumption was just 1,097 megawatts.
How will electricity demands be fulfilled if the new government continues to develop the industrial zones?
I don’t know about a policy to make sure electricity is available around the clock. If people were willing to pay $US.15 cents per unit, foreign businesses could afford to provide electricity by bringing in their own equipment. Thousands of megawatts of electricity could be produced in our country. It is not difficult. It just depends on how much people are willing to pay in order to have access to 24-hr electricity.