Gov’t to Buy Electricity from China to Cover Shortfall

By Nan Lwin 14 May 2019

YANGON—The Myanmar government plans to buy 1,000 MW of electricity from a Chinese state-owned enterprise to meet an expected electricity shortage over the next two years.

Myanmar, which already has Southeast Asia’s lowest rate of access to electricity, has recently been plagued by regular power blackouts due to water shortages at hydropower plants following severe heat across the country. Hydropower remains Myanmar’s main source of electricity, followed by natural gas and coal. According to the Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE), the country faced a 400 MW power shortage as of April. This is expected to rise to 1,588 MW by 2020.

“We have already estimated the potential electricity shortage by 2021. That’s why we are planning to buy electricity from China,” U Tin Maung Oo, MOEE permanent secretary, said at a press conference on Thursday.

The ministry will buy the electricity from Guangzhou-based state-owned enterprise China Southern Power Grid. One of the biggest electricity operators, it currently provides 890.2 TWh of electricity to Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong, Macau and a number of provinces in China.

“[The planned purchase] is related to the BRI. China Southern Power Grid has already done some joint studies with [MOEE],” U Tin Maung Oo said. The BRI, or Belt and Road Initiative, is China’s ambitious international infrastructure development strategy.

According to MOEE, the electricity is expected to be transmitted from Dhong Dai in Yunnan, China to Muse, Mineye and Hopong in northern Shan State, Loikaw in Kayah State and Phayakyi in Bago Region. However, MOEE did not provide details on the estimated cost of the project.

U Tin Maung Oo said the plan also calls for the two sides to trade power. “If we need power, we will buy [from China]. If we manage to build more hydropower plants in the future, we will have excess electricity. Then, we will sell it back.”

At last week’s meeting of the Lower House (or Pyithu Hluttaw), Deputy Minister of Electricity and Energy U Htun Naing said that only 44 percent of the country’s population is linked to the national power grid.

Union Minister for Electricity and Energy U Win Khaing said the ministry has set periodic electricity access targets through 2030. It aims for 55 percent of the population to have access to power by 2020-2021, 75 percent by 2025-2026 and 100 percent by 2030-2031.

As part of the National Electrification Plan, on April 30 the Electricity Supply Enterprise under MOEE and six companies signed contracts to install transmission lines and transformers in 590 villages in the following regions and states: Yangon, Sagaing, Magway, Mandalay, Rakhine, northern Shan, Kayin and Mon. The project will be funded with a World Bank loan.

Since 2017, three Chinese state-owned companies; China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co. Ltd, China Southern Power Grid Co. Ltd and a subsidiary of the latter, Yunnan International Co. Ltd, proposed separate plans to connect Myanmar’s national grid with the electricity network in China’s Yunnan Province. The proposals include building a high-voltage transmission line linking the border town of Muse with Meiktila in Mandalay Region, supplying power from Yunnan via high-voltage cables, and the use of an existing cable to link Meiktila with Yunnan via Muse.

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