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Nay Pyi Taw scraps Hpa-An coal power plant, communities urge Kayin govt to follow suit

Kayin communities and civil society groups applauded Nay Pyi Taw’s decision announced last month to halt a proposed coal power plant in Hpa-An and urged the regional government to confirm the cancellation. Meanwhile, a total of 130 civil society groups issued a joint statement to urge the government to cancel all proposed and suspended coal-fired power plants across the country.

On March 14, Union Minister of Electricity and Energy U Win Khaing announced at a press conference that the government will not grant permission for the proposed 1,280MW coal power plant. This decision has gained the praise and appreciation of communities and groups who campaigned hard against the project.

“We are very happy and appreciative to hear the announcement of the Union Minister that this project has been cancelled. Despite our happiness at the result, we remain cautious. We hope that state-level government representatives will help reduce our concerns by following in the footsteps of the union minister and announcing their support for the project’s cancellation,” Saw Aung Than Htwe, a member of Hpa-An communities, said.

In a joint statement, 130 civil society groups are calling for the Union government to cancel all proposed and suspended coal-fired power plants across the country.

“We, the undersigned 131 organisations and networks call on the Myanmar Union government to follow up on the minister’s statement and officially cancel all proposed and suspended coal-fired power plants.

“We also call on the government to pass a national moratorium on coal power plants because of the devastating and irreparable harm they would cause to the environment and people of Myanmar. We further call on the government to create policies and laws to promote and regulate the implementation of sustainable renewable energy projects that are consistent with the needs and wishes of communities,” the groups stated.

In April 2017, the Kayin regional government and Toyo Thai Power Myanmar Co Ltd (TTCL) signed a memorandum of understanding to conduct a feasibility study for the proposed Hpa-An coal plant. Two months later, 42 Karen-based civil society organisations and 130 other groups released a statement opposing the project.

In October 2017, the regional government and and TTCL signed joint venture and lease agreements for 815 acres with a concession period of 40 years. The proposed project site was on the Thanlwin River. Local groups collected 2,980 signatures from local residents who were against the proposal and submitted them to the Kayin chief minister, which was followed by a demonstration in November.

“Despite knowledge of this opposition, TTCL persuaded the Kayin State government to organise people from Hpa-An to go and visit Hekinan coal-fired power plant in Japan in an attempt to influence and promote their project in Hpa-An,” EarthRights International said in the press statement.

“Although the project has been declared cancelled at Union level this remains unclear at state level. Public access to information on the project remains limited, and land has recently been purchased by TTCL in the project area,” Saw Nay Lin Htun, another Hpa-An resident, noted.

EarthRights International also said that TTCL reportedly attempted to implement the Hpa-An project in Kayin State after having failed to do so in Ann Dinn, Mon State. The local communities in Ann Dinn strongly opposed this project. Around 5,000 people protested the project in 2015, and a result of this strong and continuous opposition, the Ann Dinn project was cancelled.

Coal-fired power plant projects throughout Myanmar face considerable opposition among local communities, who express concerns over forced relocation from their lands, pollution to the air and water, the resulting loss of livelihoods, and harmful consequences to their health.

Renewable energy options also make projects such as the one proposed for Hpa-An unnecessary and inexcusable, according to Earthrights International.

“Developing countries are installing renewable energy projects almost twice as fast as developed countries. Among the factors contributing to this shift is the decreasing cost of component materials and increasing efficiency of renewable energy technologies. In addition, renewable energy projects can bring electricity to communities across Myanmar much quicker than coal power plants and large hydropower projects,” the NGO said, adding that Myanmar rural communities have successfully implemented more than 3,500 off-grid sustainable renewable energy projects.

“This moment presents an opportunity to discuss steps towards sustainable and decentralised community-managed alternative energy, and to open space for clear and people-centered plans for energy governance,” said Saw Tha Phoe, coordinator for Karen River Watch.

ITD and TTCL

TTCL is a joint venture between Italian-Thai Development (ITD), which holds a 51 percent stake in the firm, and Japan’s Toyo Engineering Corp, which owns 49pc. The firm runs one power plant in Myanmar, a 120MW combined-cycle plant in Ahlone township in the commercial capital.

ITD has been mired in scandals. Thai prosecutors said yesterday that they are seeking to indict the president of ITD, Premchai Karnasuta, for poaching wildlife. Dawei Development Association board member Bo Bo told The Myanmar Times earlier that the scandal raised doubts over the suitability of ITD to implement Dawei Special Economic Zone.

U Thant Zin, DDA director, repeated a similar concern to Australia-based ABC: “We’re really worried about the practice of Premchai … [if] he’s not following the law even in his own country, how he will follow the law in Myanmar?” he noted, adding that Myanmar government “should put the ITD in the blacklist.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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