Myanmar incurs wrath of civic groups as hydropower solutions remain its main priority

MYANMAR’S Electric Power Ministry will go ahead with hydropower projects, the Minister for Electric Power, Industry, Science and Technology said last week amid reports of local resistance.

Nyan Tun U told the Confexhub’s Myanmar Green Energy Summit that the government would fulfil its target to achieve universal electricity access by 2030. At present, only about 30 per cent of the population has access to electricity.

“We are comprehensively and systematically working on plans for sustainability, ensuring efficient and effective use of resources while considering protection of the environment. There is a very huge potential for the green energy sector in Myanmar. However, we need more investment and transfers of know-how,” he said.

The tasks have been and will be carried out by Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise, a state utility, the ministry itself, local companies and joint ventures with foreign investors, he said.

The four main river basins – Ayeyawady, Chindwin, Thanlwin (Salween) and Sittaung – offer a combined capacity of up to 100 gigawatts of hydropower.

“At present, only 3 per cent of the country’s potential has been developed and 26 per cent is under implementation. Small hydroplants are expected to develop more as a proper source for electrification of small villages,” he said.

There are 35 small and medium hydropower stations across the country, generally ranging from one to 10 megawatts in capacity, generating 33.18MW in total. All of them were built by the government outside the grid system in order to supply electricity to rural areas.

As part of the national electrification programme, 386 reservoirs are expected to be implemented with total storage capacity of 19.40 billion cubic metres.

The minister also underscored the importance of other potential resources – wind, solar, biomass and other types of renewable energy.

Myanmar’s per capita electricity consumption is the lowest in Asean, given the low electrification rate, low industry development and lack of investment. Yangon enjoys the highest electrification ratio of 67 per cent, followed by Nay Pyi Taw at 54 per cent and Mandalay at 31 per cent. The remaining rural areas are still poorly electrified with the average ratio of 16 per cent.

Strengthening the energy sector is critical for reducing poverty and enhancing medium and long-term development prospects. Plans for universal electrification must go ahead as it is an urgent requirement for social progress including health, education and other essential services, he added.

During the conference, Min Khaing, director of the ministry’s Hydropower Implementation Department, said 29 hydropower projects that are expected to produce 31.62GW have been implementing on a joint venture scheme. Three hydro projects with installed capacity of 190.4MW are being implemented on the build, operate and transfer scheme.

“Hydropower projects will be in the form of public-private partnership. We are also holding public consultations for the sustainability of the projects. At the same time, we mainly focus on capacity building by uplifting skills and motivation of our staff,” he said.

Civic groups have opposed the construction of six large-scale dams on Thanlwin River. Notably, they said the Mongtong, the biggest dam on the Thanlwin River, is unlikely to take place during this government’s term due to public opposition, said a community representative.

Nang Kham Mai, coordinator of Action for Shan State Rivers, said more than 6,000 villagers from several eastern Shan State townships recently blocked attempts by Australia’s Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) to conduct surveys for an environmental impact assessment and social impact assessment.

“We strongly oppose implementation of the dam as it will have huge impacts on more than 100,000 people living along the river. Even today, those living in eastern Shan State are worried about flooding. If the dam is built, our lives will be definitely at risk,” she said.

According to Nang Kham Mai, in late July SMEC tried to conduct surveys in 14 villages in Mongtong Township. It could do so in only four.

SMEC field surveyors handed out cloth bags, bottled drinks and snacks to surveyed households. The bags were returned the next day with anti-dam posters.

Another issue hindering the project is the fact that SMEC can not enter the Wa Special Administrative Region. The company’s representatives were in Pangshang, the capital of the region, but United Wa State Army leaders told them that the situation was too unstable and they should return in a few months to discuss the matter, said Nang Kham Mai.

Mongtong experienced fighting in June.

According to Nang Kham Nawng, coordinator of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation, the area is now restricted – no one is allowed to enter it without prior permission.

Mongtong dam would encompass 640 square kilometres. More than 300,000 would be evacuated.

It would be one of the biggest dams in Southeast Asia with a height of 241 metres. It is among six dams earmarked to be built on the Thanlwin River, which covers Shan, Kayah and Kayin states.

Ninety per cent of its 7,000 megawatts capacity would be sold to China and Thailand while the remaining 10 per cent is set for domestic use.

Due to its gigantic size, the dam is expected to take 14 years to complete at the cost of about US$8 billion. Its major shareholders are the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, China’s Three Gorges Corp and Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power and International Group of Entrepreneurs.

Saw Moe Myint, a mining consultant for the Myanmar Green Network and a retired general manager of the Mines Ministry, also opposes the proposed dam projects on the river including Mongtong.

He said that the plan to divert Thanlwin’s water to other regions may result in serious environmental consequences.

“The dams are located in the vicinity of the Kyauk Kyan earthquake fault line,” he said.

Source: The Nation

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