Monday, August 24, 2015

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

YANGON August 24, 2015

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.

Civil society organisations continue to call for an end to hydropower projects. Much of the opposition is targeted at six large dams on the Thanlwin River.

Saw Tha Phoe, a Thanlwin river campaign coordinator, said the efforts to build dams on the Thanlwin will further fuel armed conflict, as they lead to increased militarisation, thereby threatening the prospects for sustainable peace desired by ethnic people.