22 September 2014 | The Nation
The government plans to build 32 hydropower projects as joint ventures with foreign companies, most of which are Chinese firms, according to a report from the Ministry of Electric Power.
The government has already signed joint venture agreements with foreign companies to build four hydropower projects and memoranda of understanding for another 19, the ministry said, adding that nine other projects were on the table.
Asia World Company has been given permission to build four hydropower projects with China Power Investment. These are the Ayeyawady Myitsone, Chee Phwe, Laiza and Kunlon dams, which will generate a combined 6,000 megawatts of electricity. The Myitsone project has been suspended following public protests, while environmental and social impact studies have been carried out for the other three, according to the ministry.
China Power Investment and Asia World Co will also build four other dams in Kachin State - the Woo Zou, Khaung Lanphyu, Yenan and Pheezaw hydropower projects, the ministry said.
China's Sinohydro Corp and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand have been given the green light to build the Hatgyi hydropower project on the Thanlwin River in Kayin State and Naungpha project on Shwe Li River. The former will have a capacity to generate 1,360 MW and the latter 1,200 MW, according to the ministry.
The government is now reviewing the social and environmental impacts of the Yarthit hydropower project planned for the Thanlwin River in Kayah State.
Nine projects under survey include the Tar Pain-2 in Kachin State, Mongtong on the Thanlwin River in eastern Shan State and Kungtung in southern Shan State.
Almost all of the foreign companies that have received initial approval are Chinese. The joint venture agreements will allow them to build and operate power plant for up to 40 years before transferring them to the Union government.
Only about 30 per cent of Myanmar's population have reliable access to electricity, with about 70 per cent of this produced by hydropower - considered the cheapest and least-polluting source.
At Myanmar Global Investment Forum last week, Vikran Kumar, International Finance Corp (IFC)'s resident representative for Myanmar, said: "Hydropower sector is more suitable for Myanmar. Organisations like IFC and the World Bank (WB) don't want to provide technical and financial assistance when power generation methods are not based on clean energy."
Pyae Wa Tun, CEO from Parami Energy Group, agreed that more focus is placed on hydropower, as coal-fired power plants will pollute the environment more. Yet, he realised that hydropower could cause some other problems, and that should be addressed.
"We don't like having more people with lung cancer," he said at the conference. "The US says big-scale hydropower projects are very dangerous but medium-scale ones are ok. I think we should choose the ones that may have the least impacts on our environment."
The country has tried to boost electricity generating by gas, which is now about 20 per cent of total. Yet, a gas-fired power plant needs a natural gas depot, which takes 3-5 years for construction and the investment of over Ks 1 billion. Instead, some foreign companies are setting up power plants along the Myanmar-China gas pipeline, and selling power to the government under the Independent Power Producer scheme. Local power firm, RGK+Z&A Group, is one of the producers. In a joint venture with a Hong Kong company, it now sells electricity at Ks 130 per unit.
Its managing director, Zayyar, said the company also runs another project with assistance from the World Bank.