Opposition to Pioneering Coal Power Plant in Mon State Persists

By Yen Saning 10 June 2014

RANGOON — Plans for Mon State’s first coal-fired power plant are facing an uphill battle amid local opposition, despite compensation offers that have proved tempting for some affected residents, none of whom currently benefits from electricity sourced from the national grid.

The Thailand-based Toyo-Thai Corporation held its first consultation with local communities in April to explain plans to build a 1,280-megawatt power plant in Inn Din village, 20 kilometers northwest of Ye Township, at a cost of US$2.7 billion.

The company did not get approval from the villagers and the local abbot at that initial meeting, which was also attended by an MP from Ye Township and a state electricity minister, who was brought in to help explain the project.

Villagers have since held several meetings at the local monastery to discuss whether or not to allow the project to move forward.

Despite the absence of local residents’ consent, Toyo-Thai has proceeded in carrying out a feasibility study on a prospective location for coal-laden ships to dock.

Over 100 members from the Ye Social Service, a community organization in Ye Township, last week undertook a “no coal” campaign, distributing brochures on the negative social and environmental impacts of the coal-fired power plant to the villages near the project site.

Aung Naing Oo, a parliamentarian from Chaung Sone Township, Mon State, visited the village and held a meeting on Sunday with the community, township officials and senior monks from nearby villages.

“The villagers do not know that coal-fired power plants are dangerous. When NGOs and EITI [Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative] groups started an educational program on the effects of it, people got scared,” he told The Irrawaddy, referring to an international initiative promoting accountability in the extraction of natural resources.

Aung Naing Oo said that although some people were receptive to selling their farmlands surrounding the project, most were unwilling to accept the Thai company’s compensation offer, which the lawmaker described as a “good price.”

“Ye Township has precious land that can yield seasonal fruits with balanced weather. Though people are not rich, they are not poor either,” he said.

Among 216 villagers who attended the meeting on Sunday, “206 voted against the power plant, four agreed [to allow it] and six have remained undecided,” said Seik Sorn, a resident of Inn Din village.

“Our village doesn’t want this as it is too dangerous,” added Seik Sorn, who is also a member of the Mon State EITI group.

“Ye Township would not be able to use up all the electricity from the 1,280 MW power plant. The waste disposal and smoke from the plant will also harm our environment and give us diseases. Population density will also increase and social conflict could occur too,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Ye Township is not linked to the national power grid, with most residents accessing electricity from private generators at a cost of about 500 kyats to 1,000 kyats ($0.50 to $1) per unit.

“The senior monks say the villagers used to live peacefully but the project has brought discord to the community,” Aung Naing Oo said. “About 90 percent of them reject the project.”

“We found from our field trip that the [state] government’s actions have lacked transparency.”

Aung Naing Oo said he would submit a report urging that the project be halted in light of the local opposition, sending copies to the Union government, Mon State legislature, Toyo-Thai and other relevant stakeholders.

If the plan proceeds, Toyo-Thai will sell electricity from the coal-fired plant to the Burmese government. The plant would be built on 500 acres of land and would be operational by 2017. Coal to fuel the plant would be shipped from Australia, South Africa and Indonesia.

Toyo-Thai Corporation Public Company Limited (TTCL) was incorporated in 1985 by a joint venture of Italian-Thai Development, one of the biggest contractors in Thailand, and Toyo Engineering Corporation, an international engineering company in Japan.

TTCL signed a memorandum of understanding with Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power in 2012 and opened a joint-venture gas-fired power plant in Rangoon the following year.

The $170 million gas-fired power plant became partly operational in April 2013, producing 80 MW of its expected full capacity, 120 MW. The Export-Import Bank of Thailand has provided a $100 million loan to Toyo-Thai for remaining construction costs and running expenses, with full operational capacity expected later this year.