Local resistance fails to halt Myeik coal-fired power plant

A local company says it will pursue plans to build a 50-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Tanintharyi Region once it has secured permission from Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), despite continuing opposition from the community.

Beside Lut Lut village – 12 miles (19.3 kilometres) from Myeik – Than Phyo Thu Mining Company and Myeik Public Corporation plan to build and operate the plant to distribute electricity around the area.

U Myo Win Than, director of Than Phyo Thu Mining, said the company will spend K48 billion on the project, after signing with the Ministry of Electric Power in 2012 to build the power plant on 160 acres of land.

“[Our company] bought all the land, but we only need 20 acres to construct the power plant,” he said, adding that they have already imported some of the necessary machines and settled matters with local residents.

Residents in Lut Lut village said the land was confiscated by the army in return for meagre compensation in 2003. The military wanted to lease the land to private companies for inland fish and prawn farming but the scheme fell through, they said.

“We had to give up our land for only K30,000 per acre,” U Kyaw Shwe, a 53-year old resident told The Myanmar Times in late February.

“They fixed the land price at K100,000 per acre and held back K70,000 to cover the cost of finding new cultivatable land. But we haven’t received it yet.”

After the fishery plans fell through the plot lay abandoned for many years until 2012 when Than Phyo Thu Mining Company signed to build its coal-fired power plant, residents said. The local community has protested against the project, as it is very close to the two villages.

Lut Lut village has more than 100 households with a population of around 400. Residents rely on agriculture and fishing for their livelihoods, as does Thamote village, a group of more than 700 households located 0.75 miles (1.2km) away across the Thamote River.

“Residents were not informed when the company signed an MoU [memorandum of understanding] to build the plant,” said U Htein Lin In, village administrator for Thamote and local NLD election campaign chair.

“The company says it has completed an environmental and social impact assessment but it hasn’t shown us the results. We protested in Myeik township in 2012 for the first time and again in 2014 to stop the project.”

Company director U Myo Win Than said he believes the project has local support.

“As far as I know, over 80 percent of local residents welcome our project. Only a few oppose it and the rest are neutral,” he said. “We have given them compensation for their loss, even though the land was taken by the military many years ago.”

His company recently sent a third proposal to MIC and is waiting for a final decision, he said.

At the end of February, state media announced that 68 projects across the country would be put on hold until the new National League for Democracy-led government takes power, including a 2640MW coal-fired project in Myeik. Other projects in the region are also likely to be suspended until the new government term.

U Htein Lin In said Than Phyo Thu Mining has offered incentives such as community development and job opportunities, but that villagers would prefer to receive electricity from natural gas, which is plentiful in the region.

“The community is aware that no coal project can be totally pure. Our region makes most of its income by fishing, and we don’t want to allow the surrounding sea and river to be polluted with waste from a coal-fired plant,” he said.

Myeik district has an 18MW electricity gap. Much of the area’s power is generated by diesel turbines operated by private companies and costs more than K300 per unit, while the coal-powered plant would supply electricity at K200 a unit.

U Myo Win Than said the project is spearheaded by the Union government to provide the area with electricity.

“We cannot know when Tanintharyi Region will be connected to the national grid. We think this project will be beneficial – if we don’t implement it, the people here will live in the dark. It can’t be said that the community is totally against it, as some are afraid to stop the project,” he said.

The government’s Energy Master Plan, published in January this year, suggests that Myanmar’s energy sector will require investment of between US$30 billion and $40 billion over the next 15 to 20 years.

By 2030, the plan targets the following energy mix: 33pc biomass, 22pc oil, 20pc coal, 13pc gas, 11pc hydro and 1pc renewable energy.

The coal-fired plant has been on hold since 2012 not as a result of protests, but because it requires MIC approval, said U Myo Win Than.

It will be built using German technology, Chinese-manufactured machinery and coal imported from Indonesia, he said, adding that the company originally planned to mine its own coal but the idea fell through.

“The company will guarantee that 99.4pc of the waste can be controlled, and kept from spreading across the surrounding area, by the technology we are going to use,” he said.

Another coal-fired plant operated by the same company – a 20MW project in Kawthaung – was suspended recently as a result of local resistance to environmental damage caused by the waste.

U Htein Lin In believes the country’s electricity supply is a government responsibility and should not be controlled by private companies.

“We already know that the plant will produce more electricity than is needed for the area and will be sold overseas at the expense of Myeik residents,” he said.

 

Source: Myanmar Times

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