Irrawaddy Division Coal Power Plant Grounded on Local Pushback

By Yen Saning 6 July 2015

RANGOON — The fate of a planned coal-fired power plant in Irrawaddy Division’s Ngapudaw Township remains unclear amid local opposition, with representatives from two companies jointly involved in laying its groundwork offering differing accounts of the project’s status.

Local newspaper 7 Days reported on Monday that the proposed 300-megawatt power plant in Nga Yoke Kaung sub-township had been “stopped,” citing Irrawaddy Division’s Electricity and Industry Minister Saw Mya Thein, who told the Burmese-language daily that a halt to the project was due to local opposition.

Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation has partnered with local conglomerate A1 Group of Companies to undertake preliminary field research at the site of the planned power plant.

“The companies have been doing surveys. Because [people] are rejecting this, they have stopped,” Saw Mya Thein was quoted as saying. “The companies also don’t want to continue. The chief minister has also asked them to stop.”

Yukihiro Iwasaki, deputy general manager of Mitsubishi Corporation in Burma, confirmed that feasibility studies including soil tests and other survey work had been suspended owing to resistance from local residents.

“We just stopped all surveys,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that the company is working with Burma’s Ministry of Electrical Power and Irrawaddy Division Chief Minister Thein Aung to assuage the concerns of local communities. Iwasaki said the proposed plant would be equipped with “clean coal” technology designed to limit carbon emissions and negative environmental impacts.

But Yan Win, chairman of the A1 Group of Companies, offered a different explanation for the suspension of survey work in Ngapudaw Township, saying Burma’s monsoon season was the cause.
“No, we will not stop. We will continue,” he said, adding that surveying would resume once the seasonal rains abated.

A total of $1 billion is needed to finance the project, with about 70 percent of the investment expected to come in the form of loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, according to Yan Win.

Mitsubishi in April invited a delegation from Burma including local residents of Ngapudaw Township and policymakers to tour two coal power plants in Japan to learn about the East Asian economic power’s successful use of clean coal technology to curb carbon emissions. Yan Win said a report of that visit has been submitted to Burma’s Ministry of Electrical Power and A1 is engaged in ongoing efforts to educate locals about the project in Nga Yoke Kaung.

Efforts to reassure local residents have not prevented a vocal opposition to the project from emerging, however.

Five locals from the village of Nant Thar Pu signed a letter objecting to soil sample drilling on their lands and indicating that they likewise could not accept the proposed power plant. About 200 locals from Nant Thar Pu village in February physically prevented A1 employees from completing a land survey in the area.

In May, the Beautiful Beach Development Network (BBDN) submitted a petition signed by 8,684 Nga Yoke Kaung residents to President Thein Sein, demanding that plans for the coal-fired power plant be scrapped.

Naing Linn Htut, an Irrawaddy Division resident with the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), said local communities remained suspicious of the companies’ claim to have suspended the plan pending further consultation with affected residents.

Toe Toe Naing, from Kanchay village in the Nat Hmaw village tract, said area residents would prefer to receive some form of official indication that the planned power plant was shelved permanently.

“We are half happy [about the suspension] but dare not be entirely happy. … We’d be happier if the project was completely stopped due to rejection by more people,” she said.

Nga Yoke Kaung is currently off Burma’s national grid but Toe Toe Naing said the government has announced that some electricity would soon be provided from the grid.

Irrawaddy Division’s Electricity and Industry Minister Saw Mya Thein told The Irrawaddy that talks among stakeholders would ultimately determine the coal power project’s fate.

“The project will go ahead if the company, government and locals agree. There are locals who support and oppose. So, negotiation is ongoing. We cannot say whether the project will go ahead or not at this time.”

Opposition to the power plant in Ngapudaw Township has been mirrored in other parts of Burma, including in Mon and Arakan states. According to the Dawei Development Association, more than a dozen coal-fired power plants are currently planned nationwide, and if completed would join three existing coal-fired plants in generating power for chronically undersupplied Burma.

The 7 Days report on the latest setback for coal power proponents came the same day Burma’s state media appeared intent on promoting the industry, with state-run dailies running front page stories of a visit by Thein Sein to Japan’s Hekinan coal-fired power plant, the country’s largest.

The president was schooled on the “environmental friendly technology for producing electricity from coal,” according to The Global New Light of Myanmar.