RANGOON — Senior officials said the government is working with the private sector to improve energy supply in Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, although they acknowledged that the country faces a huge energy supply shortfall for years to come.
Minister of Electric Power Khin Maung Soe and Aung Khine, chairman of Yangon Electricity Supply Board (YESB), held a press conference on Saturday during which they discussed Burma’s energy supply situation, according to state-owned newspaper The New Light of Myanmar.
The officials, who held the press conference ahead of the oncoming dry season, which usually sees an increase in power blackouts in Rangoon, said the government stood for a daunting task to more than the double energy supply in the next two years.
Khin Maung Soe said currently energy supply stands at about 2,000 megawatt per day, while energy demand far outstrips supplies and is set to grow annually with 15 percent to 4,900 megawatt per day by 2015. Rangoon represents more than half of the nation’s energy demand.
“As we need more electricity supply nationwide, we need to produce more electricity through various ways of production, hydropower, gas turbines, as well as cleaner coal power plants,” he was quoted as saying by the state newspaper.
The minister told reporters that the Myanmar Investment Commission was in talks with private investors to develop energy projects, although he stopped short of providing details about the projects and the firms involved.
Naypyidaw has previously announced that it intends to rapidly increase power supply and reach universal access to electricity for its citizens by 2030.
Tun Kywe, deputy chief engineer of the YESB, told The Irrawaddy that the board was improving electricity supplies to Rangoon and he tried assuage concerns among the city’s inhabitants about the onset of the dry season.
“The blackouts and shortage won’t be as [frequent] like last year. We expect that we can supply more power than last year,” he said.
Burma’s power supply becomes more infrequent in the course of the dry season, as water levels in hydropower dam reservoirs drop and the dams’ output falls.
During the hot season, from March to May, YESB struggles to supply Rangoon’s approximately 5.3 million inhabitants and it is forced to ration electricity supply to different parts of the city, with some parts receiving only 6 hours of power per day.
Some Rangoon residents, however, are skeptical about the government’s pledges that electricity supply to the city will significantly improve the coming dry season.
“It’s been several years that we have been facing that problem in Rangoon,” said Khine Su, a 30-year-old resident of Kyauktada Township in downtown Rangoon. “It is so terrible. We always have to walk through the dark at night in the cool season.
“It is really terrible for me as being a girl, there are no even street lights on at this time,” she said.
Although Burma is rich in energy resources, with large oil and gas reserves, and vast hydropower potential, only a quarter of all Burmese have access to reliable electricity, according to the World Bank, which has said that improving this supply “requires large investments from both the public and private sectors.”
The lack of reliable power supply is also considered a major hurdle to attracting foreign investment to the country.
Since reengaging with Burma last year, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have prioritized the development of the country’s energy sector.
Last week, the World Bank announced it was providing Burma with an interest-free US$140 million loan to develop a power plant in Mon State, the bank’s first international investment project since reengaging with Naypyidaw.
China has already gained direct access to Burma’s plentiful resources and will soon begin to pump oil and gas from the offshore Shwe gas field through the controversial Shwe Gas pipeline, which runs from Burma’s Arakan State coast to Kunming, the capital China’s Yunnan Province.
Under a deal cut with Burma’s previous military government, Chinese firms will pump energy reserves worth US$45 million per day through the pipeline when it comes online in the coming months, according to Reuters, energy that will bypass Burma’s citizens.