Govt Defends Plan to Ramp-Up Reliance on Coal

By Yen Saning 21 May 2015

RANGOON — The government intends to push ahead with plans to increase Burma’s reliance on coal-fired power plants to 33 percent of the country’s total generating capacity by 2030, according to a deputy minister from the Ministry of Electric Power.

Aung Than Oo, the deputy minister, said on Wednesday that due to projected steady growth in electricity consumption over the next 15 years, plans for several coal-fired power plants throughout the country should not be shelved, defying calls from environmentalists to consider a greener alternative energy future.

“Coal-fired power plants that use clean-coal technology should not be abolished while natural gas, wind power, solar energy and hydro-power electricity projects must be implemented to produce more electricity for the benefit of the public and state,” he told Parliament in response to a question submitted by a lawmaker.

Lower House parliamentarian Tin Tin Ye from Tenasserim Division had asked the deputy minister whether plans to build multiple coal-fired power plants in the region would be canceled amid public opposition to the projects.

At least four coal-fired power plants are planned in Tenasserim Division, with feasibility studies currently underway, according to the Ministry of Electric Power. All of them would dwarf the division’s only existing coal-fired power facility, an 8-megawatt plant in Kawthaung at Burma’s southern tip. The largest proposed plant would produce more than 2,600 MW of electricity.

The Kawthaung plant, according to Tin Tin Ye, has already had negative health impacts on people living nearby.

None of the power generated in Burma’s southernmost territory draws from or supplies the country’s national grid, while offshore exploration of natural gas is widespread in the region.

Burma’s current energy mix sees 69 percent of electricity generated from hydro-power sources, 29 percent from natural gas and just 2 percent from coal.

Power generating capacity nationwide stands at just 2,400 MW currently, and the ministry expects that Burma’s demand for electricity will increase 13 to 15 percent annually over the next several years as more rural areas are connected to the national grid and economic growth brings increasingly energy-hungry cities and special economic zones.

“As a result of relying mainly on hydropower, the country faces an unstable and inadequate electricity supply every year,” he said. “While only 30 percent of households can use electricity and 70 percent await [the ability] to use it.”

According to a National Electricity Master Plan drafted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and a Japanese consultancy, the suggested mix for the 23,594 MW of generating capacity that Burma is forecast to require in 2030-31 is 38 percent from hydropower, 33 percent from coal, 20 percent from natural gas and 9 percent from renewable energy sources.

Tin Tin Ye, a lawmaker with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, cast doubt on government claims that the coal-fired plants in the pipeline would be genuinely “clean.”

“No one can give guarantees on clean-coal technology. Clean-coal is very expensive,” she said on Wednesday.

Environmentalist Win Myo Thu said relying on clean-coal was akin to “breathing with someone else’s nose,” with Burma’s own deposits of the carbon fuel not sufficient for the ambitious expansion of coal-fired power generation.

“We don’t believe in coal-fired power plants. Firstly because we have to buy coal from others [countries] to run the plant. This is something we shouldn’t do,” he said.

Win Myo Thu said Burma was headed in the wrong direction by trying to increase the number of coal-fired power plants in the country, in turn producing more carbon while, globally, countries are discussing ways to reduce their carbon emissions.

“People will be worried; although the ministry makes clean [coal] claims, that same electric ministry is struggling to solve [basic] problems like electric shocks from wires. Will the public believe the ministry will take responsibility if the clean-coal turns out to be dirty?”

A total of 18 coal-fired power plant projects have been planned in Burma’s Sagaing, Irrawaddy, Rangoon and Tenasserim divisions, and the states of Shan and Mon, according to Thant Zin, coordinator of the Dawei Development Association.

He warned that the long-term health and environmental costs of so-called clean-coal were still unknown.

“Academics are still arguing over clean-coal today. In Japan, clean-coal technology doesn’t mean pollutants are not produced,” Thant Zin.

“In the long term, it is best not to use coal.”