If the coal-fired power plants are implemented forcefully

A local discussing his points regarding the coal-fired power station at an public gathering.

Amid widespread criticism, local and foreign companies proceed with coal-fired power plant projects that may cause the damages to the country’s natural environments.

Experts have put their fingers on the negative impacts of the coal-fired power plants. In addition, local people have shown their oppositions to the projects. But some companies are trying to implement these projects in cooperation with the government.

There are three coal-fired power plants in Myanmar, namely Tigyit plant (120 MW), Kawthoung (8 MW) and Naungcho plant (15 MW). Currently, the operation of Tigyit plant and Kawthoung plant has been suspended, said mining expert Saw Moe Myint.

Continued efforts are being made to develop 11 more coal-fired power plants under the heading of “Clean Coal” even though the country suffers from the negative impacts of the coal-fired power plants.

The new plants will be as followed: two in Myeik, one in Yay and one in Bokepyin in Tanintharyi Region; one each in Kungynagon, Htantapin, Thilawa and Kyauktan townships in Yangon Region; one in Ngayokekaung in Ayeyawaddy Region; one in Kengtung of Shan State; and one in Kalewa in Sagaing Region.

Local companies close to the government such as the Asia Word (Virtue Land), A-One, and Diamond Palace are involved in the projects.

Ayeyawaddy Region chief minister himself revealed that the coal-fired power plant to be developed by the A-One company would be implemented even under the current government. Some companies proceed with the projects amid the strong oppositions by experts and local peoples.

In addition, the government is planning to implement a coal-fired power plant with a total investment of more than 900 million USD, on the bank of Yangon River in Kyauktan Township. The project may severely pollute the air quality of the commercial city, Yangon.

Taking a look at the coal-fired power plants in the United States of America, there were more than 700 power plants before 2002.  But the US reduced the number of power plants to 557 in 2012. People have been experiencing the negative impacts of coal-fired power plants. But Myanmar is trying to develop the coal-fired power plants at a time when the world countries start reducing the use of coal.  

Investors involved in the projects may suffer from the losses. For that, there are three main reasons.

The first one is that either citizen or non-citizens cannot make investments in the country if the projects have environmental impacts. The government has already set a policy of granting the projects which may have the least possible impacts. In addition, officials from the Myanmar Investment Commission have officially said that the green-light will be given only after inspections into possible impact on the environment have been conducted.

Locals at a protest against the building of coal-fired power station.

As a second point, investors need to present the sources of money and will allow investments only after paying their taxes.

The third one is that the government officials have confirmed that the companies would not get the green-light if local people oppose the projects.

The proposed projects don’t meet with the above-mentioned criteria. The projects may face suspension at some times in the futures, causing a loss to the investors. 

There may be advantages and disadvantages more or less despite the usage of clean coal technology. But the projects do not meet the standards set by the government. The projects may be suspended by a single factor that coal-fired power plant is not included in the list of the least impact ones.  

Some companies involved in the projects are included in the top taxpayers list over the recent years. But the majority of the remaining top companies should include in the top taxpayers list. It shows that these companies paid less than Ks 10 million in taxes.

The total investments in 11 coal-fired power plants amount to over 10 billion USD. For that amount, the companies will have to pay at least three billion USD (Ks 3,000 billion) in tax.

Some companies that did not include in the 1000 top taxpayers list are involved in the coal-fired power plant projects. They may include in the 1000 top taxpayers list if the tax around Ks 15 million. Those companies may surely loss their money as they would not meet with the criteria for the source of money.

The government has promised that the companies could not implement it without the consents of local people and experts. The projects may face a shutdown if the companies proceed with the projects without the locals’ consents.

Thailand is planning to implement a coal-fired power plant (2,640 MW) near Hmwayshaung village in Tonebaw village-tract in Myeik district in Taninthatyi region. But local people and more than 30 civil societies have remonstrated about it.

The BBDN formed by locals from Ngayokekaung region sent a petition carrying 8,648 signatures to the president to cancel the project.

“We have natural gas. It doesn’t make sense to sell the gas and buy coal. Even the electricity starved giant like China closed 5,000 power stations. In Beijing there are four which rely on steam and coal. All four were closed because they see that coal-fired stations were harmful. That and also because they received a large supply of gas from Myanmar. So they closed the dangerous coal-fired power stations since they have other, more viable means. The coal station in Mae Moh, Thailand was closed after over 300 people died and more diseased,” said Dr Khin Maung Nyo, a chemist.

He continued “Clean coal is impossible. By nature coal is dirty and Clean Coal Technology is just a term. Yes, through technology we can make it safe for people but it costs a great deal. The results does not compensate for the effort put in. While it is true that without energy the nation cannot develop but this energy is not for the people. There are many other ways to produce energy for the public. This energy is to power factories to produce more money for those who own them. You can say that when the business owners get the benefit, the country gets it too but one thing for sure is that whoever gets it, the people will suffer.”

“In order to invest, permission from MIC or appropriate government ministries is required. Previously they only looked at things from a business standpoint; profitable, contribute to the nation’s economy as well as generating more jobs. They also have to consider environmental conservation and social well-being, making sure that the surrounding areas come to no harm. The other thing is to get approval from the local populace. Of course, not everyone agrees as we have heard of numerous complaints over this coal-fired power station project. We simply suggest to follow the wishes of the public, we are not the decision makers,” said an authority from Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

Saw Moe Myint, a mining expert, said “I believe that while there is definitely a need for electricity in Myanmar, the situation is not so dire as to resort to using coal-fired power plants.”

Khin Maung Nyo said “Coal produced from Myanmar isn’t of quality to be used and the amount is insufficient as well. We will have to purchase from other nations and will have to at least keep 3 months stock. No matter how you will proceed, it is not easy to keep it indoors. When the wind blows, the dangerous dust will be swept along so there is a need for very expensive measures to prevent that. There is also the danger of fire. On top of losing all that money from the burned coals, the smoke and the dust particles are going to cause cancer for people. The whole world knows this.”

“Among the 11 projects, none of them have finished with EIA/SIA processes which will at least take from 6 months to 1 year. If they were to go ahead with the project, they need to do those systematically. The shoreline at Nga Yoke Kaung is breathtakingly beautiful. It cannot even be compared to places like Ngwe Saung. It is also at the very tip of Myanmar, housing around 40,000 people who make their living from the sea. Their livelihoods are in danger as well as the ecosystem if the waste water from the power station were dumped into the sea,” said Saw Moe Myint.

Secretary Aung Naing Oo of the Myanmar Investment Commission has reported that there are “no coal related submissions to the MIC” yet.

The CEO of Parami Energy Group of Companies, Pyae Wa Htun said “One has to consider, regarding clean coal technology, which method will be utilized. Will it be China, India, Japan or Germany? There are going to be costs and there is no guarantee how clean will it be.”

Many harmful side effects that accompanies using coal include production of greenhouse gases, fly ash, acid rains, excess consumption of water, expensive transportation charges, destruction of water ecosystem due to waste water, fires, headaches and other bodily harm including cancer resulting from 720 tons of carbon monoxide production and other chemicals such as lead and arsenic.

Many experts have analyzed that since Myanmar does not naturally produce high grade coal for usage in the power station, quality coal from countries such as Australia, Indonesia needs to be imported. Since doing so will be an expensive venture, the public will not be able to benefit from the coal-fired power station at affordable prices but only benefiting to those who owns the power station. Only harmful effects to the environment will be apparent.

The current rate of energy consumption in Myanmar is 74 percent from hydro power station, 23 percent from natural gas and only 3 percent from coal. According to the figures, 2919 megawatts are produced from hydro power stations, 931 megawatts from gas turbines and 120 megawatts from coal.

The highest amount of electricity consumed is 3970 megawatts in 2014 with each year showing increasing need for more power. Experts have commented that while the country definitely needs energy, we should stick to using natural gas as we are a nation rich in that resource.

Within three years under the current government, over 5 million tons of timber has been cut down, adding to the excessive amount of illegal logging from previous governments which majorly worsen the effects of natural disasters such as flooding, land and mudslides.

If more coal-fired power stations were to be built, over 51 million citizens will undoubtedly suffer the effects of natural disasters worse than before. It also seems to be an unavoidable situation that if the coal-fired power station projects were to continue amidst protests by local populace and experts, heavier protests will occur and the projects will be forced to stop, resulting in loss of money for investors.