Hot Season Power Outages Again Likely, Officials Warn

By Lawi Weng 18 December 2012

RANGOON — Burmese government officials warned that they might struggle to provide sufficient power during the hot weather early next year and called for the public’s understanding for any possible outages.

At the same time, they sought to blame ethnic Kachin rebels for disruptions to the country’s power supply, claiming that the rebels had previously attacked a power station in Kachin State and might do so again.

“Even though we plan to produce more electric power or to build more power stations, we may not have enough electric power and we may have to cut off power sometime next summer,” said Yangon Electricity Supply Board (YESB) Chairman Aung Khaing.

He and several other officials held a press conference at the board’s office in Rangoon this weekend to address the issue of possible power shortages. During the last hot season, frequent power shortages led to large-scale protests in Rangoon and Mandalay in the months of April, May and June.

Aung Khaing said officials were working to ensure 24-hour power supply during the upcoming hot season, when water levels in hydropower stations usually drop due to droughts and the power output of the stations falls sharply.

“We had a good rainy season this year and there is a lot of water in the dam [reservoir]. We will even try to maintain the water level at the dam, so that it could last until March,” he said, adding that concerns also remained over the state of the long-distance power transmission lines.

Aung Khaing said Burma’s current energy supply, which comes for 70 percent from hydropower and 30 percent from coal, was well below the needs of the country.

“We need 1,800 megawatts of electric power during summer time in March, but we only can produce 1,400 megawatts,” he said, adding, “Burma has opened the door of the economy and the most basic infrastructure development need is electric power.”

Aung Khain said that in Rangoon 900,000 households were linked to the city’s power grid and they require about 750 megawatts. “But if we do not have it, we have to cut off the power, which causes problems for the people,” he added.

YESB will try to increase power supply for the city by working with private sector investors who will build and operate new power plants near Rangoon, he said.

Only a quarter of all Burmese have access to mains grid power and Rangoon alone needs an estimated US $237 million for infrastructure refurbishment and expansion work for the 2013-2016 period, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Ministry of Electric Power Director General Khin Maung Zaw told reporters that armed ethnic Kachin groups were partly to blame for Burma’s poor power supply because of their supposed attacks on hydropower stations.

He said one of the smaller power stations at 2,000-megawatt Chibwe dam project in Kachin State was ready to go online, but it had been prevented from operating properly because of Kachin rebel attacks. “This power plant is built and ready for use in 2012 and 2013. It can produce 99 megawatts, but we could not run it as there is no good security,” Khin Maung Zaw said.

Many of Burma’s current and planned dams are located in the mountainous regions that are the scene of ethnic conflict. Chinese companies have agreed with the Burmese government to build several dams on tributaries of the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State and most of the dams’ energy will go to China.

During the electricity protests in May, the government also claimed that it had to enforce blackouts in Rangoon because Kachin rebels had allegedly blown up transmissions towers near Shwe Li in northern Shan State, where there is a 200-megawatt power station.

Khin Maung Zaw again repeated this claim at the press conference, saying, “When Shweli was destroyed by the enemy… it was hard for us to manage regular power supply for the people.”