Monday, June 1, 2015

Go for gas, not coal

Weekly Eleven Editorial  May 29, 2015

Protests can be seen in Ngayokkaung in Ngaputaw Township, Ayeyarwady Region. The protesters carry banners reading: “Coal-fired power stations are not wanted”. Those banners are also hung up in some homes and shops. Protests can also be seen in other areas like Yangon Region and Mon State. No one can deny that the demonstrations have resulted from the government’s lack of transparency over its projects.

The reason why more coal-fired power projects have emerged is electricity shortages in the country. Out of 51 million people, more than 24 million are without electricity.

“Only if our government or private companies build hydropower, gas-fired and coal-fired stations will all of our people enjoy electricity in next the five or 10 years,” said the minister for electric power at a ceremony to sign an agreement with foreign companies held in Nay Pyi Taw on May 27.  

On May 22, retired director general of the energy planning department Soe Myint said at least four more offshore oil and gas deposits had been found in Myanmar and the Aung Theinkha gas project was likely to produce gas on a commercial scale by 2018.

“At present, four projects are producing gas and the Aung Theinkha project will go into operation in 2018. Another gas deposit has been discovered off the Rakhine Coast. More gas deposits have already been found at ‘Block A6’ owned by a Myanmar company and ‘Block M2’ run by Petro Vietnam and Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise. The country has the potential to find more gas deposits,” said Soe Myint.

Despite those oil and gas fields large enough to meet future electricity demand, why are coal-fired power projects being planned? Analysis should be carried out.

The environmental NGO Greenpeace issued a paper highlighting how South Africa is suffering from the impact of coal-fired power plants. The country generates 85 per cent of its electricity from coal. The paper pointed to the deaths and suffering of people due to the pollution from 16 coal-fired power stations.

Another study reveals that 3.7 million infants and foetuses were killed by pollution in 2012.
In Myanmar, coal-fired power project planners promised to seek ways to prevent the environmental impact by using ultra-supercritical combustion technology that could reduce 20 per cent of carbon emissions. However, there will be more disadvantages than advantages.

Myanmar is planning to build up to 11 coal-fired power plants. But a country exporting gas with the potential to uncover more gas deposits should raise awareness of the environmental impact caused by making electricity from coal.

The Daily Eleven urges the authorities to consider if the coal-fired power projects are really appropriate.