MANDALAY—Local residents and civil society organizations in Shan State will submit an open letter this week to the Union and state governments with recommendations for Shan State’s energy policy following a seminar on energy strategy held in Taunggyi from July 27-28.
The open letter calls on the governments to give priority to green and renewable energy, as the current national energy policy prioritizes hydropower, coal and natural gas as major sources of energy despite their potential social and environmental impacts and their risks of increasing the debt burden of the country.
It also calls on the government to make sure local people can participate in the decision-making process when an energy policy is designed.
Ko April Kyu Kyuu, director of SaNaR (Save The Natural Resource), a civil society organization monitoring hydropower projects on the Salween River in Shan State, said, “As the country is undergoing a transition currently, [the government] should treat large-scale investment from any country, not just China, with care. [The government] should assess how strongly investment laws can protect local people.”
In 2013, the government announced plans to build six large hydropower dams along the Salween River in Shan, Kayah and Karen states, which would collectively generate around 15,000 megawatts of electricity.
China is the major investor in the projects, and most of the electricity produced will be exported to neighboring countries, mainly China, according to civil society organizations.
Locals have opposed hydropower development on the Salween River since the plan was announced. They have called for transparency and voiced concerns about natural disasters as well as the projects’ environmental and social impacts.
The open letter calls for decentralization and sharing of responsibility for designing and implementing energy policies with regional and state governments. It also calls on the Union government to hire an independent third party to supervise the upgrading of the national grid.
“Most of the Chinese investment, not only in Myanmar but also around the world, aims for profit. They would work hand in glove with those in power and make things happen on the ground. They would confiscate land and farms [through their projects], and I feel like they are buying the sovereignty of other countries with money,” Ko April Kyu Kyuu said.
Among the developers of the dams are China’s Hydro China Corporation and Three Gorges Corporation, Thailand’s EGAT International, and Myanmar’s Asia World and Shwe Taung Co.
“We are against these projects not because we don’t want peace and prosperity for the country, but because the government has no transparent and definitive policies on them. We have to protect our people and our resources,” Daw Nan Wa Nu, director of the civil society organization Thousand Islands Foundation, told The Irrawaddy.
If completed, the Tasang Dam in southern Shan State would be the biggest in Southeast Asia with installed capacity of over 7,000 megawatts. It would flood an area the size of Singapore, said SaNaR.
Locals are restricted from entering the Tasang Dam project area, but local authorities provided security when a large group of Chinese citizens visited the site last year. And local authorities did not give clear answers when asked by civil society organizations about the purpose of the visit, Daw Nan Wa Nu said.
“The [Shan] state government had to provide security for them at the instruction of the Union government. But the state government itself is not clear about why it had to provide security. Under such circumstances, the concerns of locals are quite reasonable,” Daw Nan Wa Nu said.
Over the past few months, large crowds of people from many parts of Myanmar have organized anti-dam rallies against the China-backed Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State.