Monday, October 27, 2014

Ministry mulling 11 coal-fired power plants, none approved yet, official says

Weekly Eleven Friday, 24 October 2014

Although 11 proposals to build coal-fired power plants have been submitted to the Ministry of Electric Power not a single one has yet to be approved, a senior official at the ministry said.

Tint Lwin Oo, deputy director of ministry’s hydropower administration department, said that no proposal to build a coal-fired power plant had received approval. The proposals are still being studied, he said. “The investors need to analyse environmental impacts ... when all results are satisfactory, government departments will decide,” Tint Lwin Oo said, adding that “many steps” had to be taken before the projects could be approved.

He said 11 proposals for coal-fired plants were currently being studied and that if any were approved they would provide electricity for Myanmar.

Both coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants are being considered by the ministry, the deputy director said. It is analysing both types of plants and construction of power plants will be determined based on the results of its analysis, Tint Lwin Oo said.
Two domestic companies and nine foreign companies have made proposals to construct coal-fired plants but feasibility studies as well as environmental and social impact studies must be completed first, officials said.

Tint Lwin Oo said the process would take from nine months to two years, depending on the project.

However, Parami Energy Group chief executive officer Pyae Wa Tun – a staunch critic of coal-fired power plants – said the government was already working with a Thai company to construct a coal-fired power plant in Dawei.

He said 80 per cent of the electricity generated from this plant would be sold to Thailand. “We don’t understand why they are acting like this,” he added, saying it was doubtful the plant was being constructed for the benefit of Myanmar.

He also noted that China was reducing its reliance on coal as a source of energy by half over the next 10 to 15 years. Currently, China uses about 2 billion tonnes of coal to generate electricity each year and this will be cut to 1 billion tonnes in 10-15 years, Pyae Wa Tun said.

He alleged that China was looking to Myanmar as an energy source to substitute for the loss it will see from reducing its use of coal.

“Coal-fired power plants are not acceptable,” Pyae Wa Tun said.

Coal coal-fired power plants cost less to build than hydropower plants, but are more expensive than natural-gas fired plants if the coal is purified before it is burned to generate electricity, energy experts say. One step in the purification process involves crushing and washing the coal at the mining site, while other steps can be taken at the power-generation through “clean coal” technology.

The debate over the costs and environmental impacts of so-called clean coal is a global one, with some environmental groups dismissing the entire concept of “clean coal” as an oxymoron.

Myanmar will need to rely on imported coal for coal-fired plants, as the only low-grade coal deposits have been found in the country. This will require the construction of facilities to unload coal as well as coal storage terminals, critics of coal-fired plants in Myanmar say.

The government must consider these high costs as well as potential environmental degradation before it approves coal-fired power plants, one local energy analyst said.

He said the various methods for cleansing coal before it used had yet to be analysed in Myanmar. “Will we use the methods of China or India or Japan or Germany ... no one knows,” he said, adding that concerns that the energy generated would be sold to neighbouring countries remained a concern.

“The important thing right now is we need electricity,” the analyst said. Myanmar needs to be self-sufficient in generating electricity before it exports more, he added.  Transparency and public involvement in discussion of the country’s energy needs is also critical, he said.

Besides electricity, coal-fired power plants produce greenhouse gases, including sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, as well as toxic waste and contaminated water, environmentalists say.