RANGOON — A Thai-backed cement factory under construction in Mon State is on track to begin operations in mid-2016, the company said this week, despite ongoing opposition from locals over the presence of a coal-fired power plant on the site.
The factory in Kyaikmayaw Township, situated near the Zami River—an important water source for at least five villages in the area—is owned by Mawlamyine Cement Limited (MCL), a subsidiary of Siam Cement Group (SCG).
“Once operations begin, it is expected to produce 1.8 million tons of cement per year and the plant will create more than 300 direct jobs,” MCL said in a statement dated Feb. 17.
The cement factory is 65 percent complete, the company said, explaining that US$400 million had been invested in the undertaking that was approved by the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) in 2013.
Locals from nearby villages, however, contend they were not consulted before a coal-fired power plant was built on the site to power the cement plant. MCL said in a separate statement released earlier this month that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted in 2013 and submitted to the MIC.
The Kyaikmayaw CSO’s network said it had handed a letter to MCL representatives during a meeting arranged by the firm on Feb. 10, requesting to see the EIA report.
“The whole country does not accept coal,” said Aye Thein, the coordinator of Kyaikmayaw CSO’s network. “We don’t need to reject [the project] if they run it with other [energy sources], but not coal.”
In a statement on Feb. 5, MCL set out details of the project, including the coal-fired plant.
“Outlined in the EIA, our facility includes an integrated cement plant consisting of a small self-use electricity utility that generates 40-megawatt energy power from coal and biomass and a 9-megawatt Waste Heat Generator (WHG) to assist in producing power,” the company said. “The WHG system helps lessen the dependency on electricity as well as reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”
However, Aye Thein said the company had not properly explained the impact of a coal-power plant, instead only emphasizing the positives of the project.
He said the company informed stakeholders about some measures, including that smoke from the coal plant would be absorbed, but locals remained unconvinced.
“We use premium quality coal with low sulfur, standardize all processes and strictly abide by the law. In the manufacturing process, MCL utilizes technology to ensure very low emissions, meeting the highest international standards,” said MCL managing director Wijit Terasarun in the Feb. 5 statement.
“During storage, the coal is protected from exposure to water, accounting for flood conditions. We also provide indoor storage and closed-system water management. Coal is considered an essential energy source in the industry and is well accepted as the global standard, utilized in markets across the globe.”
MCL said unofficial visits were made to the plant by Mon State ministers, Kyaikmayaw Township administrators and other government officials, as well as village heads, last year. The firm also said they hosted four “open houses” for community members to learn about the facility during 2015—meetings that Aye Thein said were not widely publicized.
The company invited a group of monks to Thailand for a study tour to explain the project this month.
“In February 2016, MCL invited 14 monks from the local community to visit The Group’s cement plant in Lampang, Thailand, with similar technology and environmental preservation as the MCL plant in Myanmar,” the company said.
Sandar Non, a central committee member of the Mon National Party, said local villagers only found out about the coal plant when local monks were invited to preach at the site.
“The villagers told us [the company] never explained [about the coal plant]. They don’t want this coal-power plant in their region. The company can use… gas to run their plant. They will not agree to the coal-power plant,” she said.
A local committee from pya-taung, or Bee Mountain, region, comprised of village representatives, including local monks, has been formed to oppose the plant.
“The villagers are now trying to get consensus from all villages to oppose the plant,” Sandar Non told The Irrawaddy.
Kyi Maung Win, the general manager of MCL in Kyaikmayaw Township, would not speak over the phone when contacted by The Irrawaddy this week.
Htun Naing, director general of the Mon State general administration office, said all approvals for the project had come from the national government and state authorities had no role.