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Myanmar MP Denounces Govt's Extension of Controversial Coal Power Plant Operation

By Thiha Lwin 20 May 2020

NAYPYITAW—A Lower House lawmaker has criticized the Myanmar government’s move to extend operation of the Tigyit coal-fired power plant in Shan State despite local residents’ complaints about its negative impacts on their health and environment.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) government, with the approval of the Shan State government, gave the green light in 2019 for the plant to continue operation until May 2022.

Lower House lawmaker U Sai Tun Aye of Shan State’s Mong Hsu Township asked during a Parliament session on Tuesday whether the government would review its extension of the plant and intervene in disputes between local residents, civil society organizations and the company over operation of the power plant.

“The plant generates electricity, but if it has negative health and environmental impacts on ethnic people in the region, the government needs to review its decision to extend the plant’s operation,” U Sai Tun Aye told reporters after the parliamentary session.

The plant is located in Naung Ta Yar Sub-township of Panglong Township in the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone in southern Shan State.

The plant was built in 2001 under the military regime and came into operation in 2005 as a joint venture between the China Heavy Machinery Corporation and the Eden Group of Companies.

The plant was suspended in 2014 under the U Thein Sein government due to technical problems with the plant and local residents’ complaints over environmental damage, public health problems and commercial losses.

But in October 2015, the U Thein Sein government granted a 22-year lease to Wuxi Huaguang Electric Power Engineering Co. Ltd., a Chinese company that won the tender, for operation of the power plant.

“The project was initiated under the military government and employs outdated technologies. As it produces electricity by burning coal, the question is whether it can contribute to the sustainable development that the government has eyes for,” the lawmaker told reporters.

In response, Deputy Minister for Electricity and Energy U Khin Maung Win said the company is undertaking corporate social responsibility activities to improve transportation, electricity access and development in the region. He also said the ministry is working to ease tensions between local residents, civil society organizations and the company.

Since Wuxi Huaguang took over operation of the plant, electricity production has doubled to 100 megawatts, said the deputy minister.

“As 100 megawatts can satisfy demand to a certain extent, it is beneficial to the country. The electricity production from Tigyit power plant is beneficial as it contributes to the requirements of the country,” deputy minister U Khin Maung Win told Parliament.

He said the power plant applies the latest technologies of international coal-fired power plants to minimize damage to the environment and air pollution. He also said trees have been grown in the area to absorb carbon dioxide emitted by the power plant and smoke and dust monitoring instruments have also been installed.

Lawmaker U Sai Tun Aye of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy said the power plant has damaged water sources and ecosystems within at least a five mile radius and local residents have reported respiratory problems and decreased birthweight in babies.

“I strongly oppose the deputy minister’s answer. There is a difference between his answer and the situation on the ground. We are taken aback by his answer that the power plant is beneficial,” U Aung Kyaw Moe, a member of the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA) told The Irrawaddy.

He added that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the Tigyit plant has not been completed or approved.

According to U Aung Kyaw Moe, the deputy electricity minister’s answer supports the interests of the company but not the interests of the people.

In April last year, hundreds of local residents held a protest march against the Tigyit power plant.

The power plant is currently being operated with over 300 permanent workers and daily wage earners, according to the deputy minister. He did not mentioned how profits are shared between the Myanmar government and the Chinese operating company.

Hydropower remains the main source of electricity in Myanmar, accounting for more than two-thirds of the total supply, while coal-fired power plants account for only one percent.

The government has adopted a policy to increase proportion of coal power to 33 percent in the next 30 years.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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