3 November 2014 | Khine Kyaw of Myanmar Eleven | The Nation
Authorities seek to boost electricity capacity by seven-fold within 15 years, while locals fret over environmental impacts
Myanmar has mapped a 15-year power development plan to meet increasing demand, setting its sights on boosting capacity from 4,581 megawatts to over 29,000MW in 2031.
According to Myint Oo, director at the Ministry of Electric Power, the plan will shift Myanmar's focus from hydropower to other energy sources, including coal, natural gas, solar, and wind power. In 2031, Myanmar is set to have 41 power plants. Besides the capacity boost, the authorities are also focusing on reducing transmission and distribution loss on its antiquated national grid.
"We have planned to implement many power projects exploiting available resources in Myanmar to fulfil surging power demand in the near future," the official said.
As of September 2014, from 814 power plants across the country, the total generation capacity was 4,581MW, of which 3,044MW (66.46 per cent) was from hydropower. High reliance on hydropower causes unstable supply, as the reservoirs behind dams shrink during the hot season.
As of September 17, with 33 per cent of the population having access to electricity, the peak load was 2,171MW and per-capita consumption was 232 kilowatt hour.
Myint Oo said that the 15-year plan had five main objectives. First, for energy efficiency, more gas-based power is necessary for a capacity boost in the short term while more hydropower power plants are planned for long-term security. Second, power distribution must cover the entire nation to boost economic development. Third, environmental and social impact assessments are required to minimise the impacts. Fourth, distribution losses must be reduced along with energy conservation. Fifth, renewable energy sources must be included.
According to Myint Oo, besides the huge gap between demand and supply, the ministry has several other challenges to address. Power losses are among them and they require an upgrade of the distribution system. Capacity building is another, as the demand of engineers will rise in line with the emergence of new power plants, which will use more advanced technology.
He said new technology should ensure that coal-fired and gas-fired power plants will reduce environmental, social and health impacts. These plants, with huge capacity, will require short construction periods and be established in areas where power demand is highest.
However, the plan calling for 12 new coal-fired power plants and 20 hydropower plants is causing deep concerns in communities where the power plants will be located. Lack of transparency is being highlighted.
Burma Rivers Network, which comprises 15 civil society groups - including ShanSapawa Environmental Organisation, Karenni Civil Society Network, Mon Youth Progressive Organisation, Love Salween Group and Karen Rivers Watch - raised concerns about all six dam projects on the Thanlwin River - known as the Salween River outside of Myanmar. These projects are Kun Long/Upper Thanlwin, Nong Pa, Mantong and Tasang dams in Shan State, Ywathit dam in Kayah State and Hatgyi dam in Kayin State.
"The six projects proceed in violation of international dam building standards, which should ensure transparency and respect for the rights of affected communities. The dam sites are strictly guarded, and local people have been given no information about the projects. Downstream communities remain unaware about impacts on water flows, fisheries and agriculture, as well the dangers of potential dam breaks," said Saw Tha Phoe, a spokesperson for the network.
He added that local residents in more than 60 villages in Shan state have already lost land as roads are built in preparation for the Kunlong dam.
Salween Watch, a coalition of civil society groups, said earlier this month that the recent escalation of fighting and displacement in Kayin state was linked to the Union army's aim to clear the way for the planned Hut Gyi Dam on the Thanlwin River. It also urged the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) to withdraw its investment in the project.
As a coal-fired power plant is likely to be established in the Dawei Special Economic Zone, local residents are bracing for negative impacts. Recently, they have experienced negative impacts from a coal mine in the region.
"This project will violate human rights and destroy the environment and livelihoods of the people. If such a project will be resumed, both the [Myanmar and Thai] governments will be judged very harshly by history," said Thant Zin, coordinator of the Dawei Development Association.
EcoDev, a non-government organisation which focuses on environmental issues in the country, has been adamant in its opposition to coal-fired power plants.
"We are against the coal-fired power plants as they will damage the environment a lot. All the land, water, and air near the plants will become polluted. And they will severely harm the health of people and animals living nearby. And the worst thing is that implementation of such plants may lead to political conflict if the local residents do not agree," said Win Myo Thu, chief executive officer of EcoDev.
Village residents are pressing for clear plans; how the projects will be carried out and who will be held accountable for any mishaps. More protests are expected until their questions are answered, the said.
The authorities have mapped out the potential locations for the 41 new power projects to be built from fiscal year 2016-17 to FY 2030-31.
The 20 new hydropower plants - with combined capacity of 6,270MW - will be established in Mandalay Region and three states: Kachin, Kayin and Shan.
Eight of 12 planned coal-fired power plants, with combined capacity of 12,780MW, will be located in Yangon and Tanintharyi regions, with four projects each. Yangon's Thilawa area will become home to three new coal-fired power plants - one in Thilawa, one in Kyauktan, and one in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone. The fourth coal-fired power plant in Yangon Region will be established in Kyunchankone and is expected to generate 3,270MW.
Ayeyawady Region will become home to two new coal-fired power plants. Both Sagaing and Shan (East) regions will get one.
All investment plans are, however, proceeding as planned and several Thai companies are keen to participate.
Thailand-based Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the feasibility study and development of the 2,640-MW Myeik clean coal-fired power plant project in Tanintharyi region. EGAT stays on course with the Hut Gyi project.
Thailand’s largest oil company PTT Group also showed its interest in investing in a power plant. Together with its partners - Japan’s Marubeni Corp and Ayar Hintha Co - it signed an MoU in October with the Ministry of Electric Power to conduct a feasibility study for an 1,800MW coal-fired power plant.
"Among the 20 new hydropower plants, a joint venture agreement for the Upper Thanlwin project in Shan state was signed. The MoA [memorandum of agreement] was signed for six more projects. The MoU was signed for another 10 projects. Two are in the feasibility study stage. The last one - Dee Doke project in Mandalay Region - is still at the pre-feasibility stage," said Myint Oo.
According to Myint Oo, the MoU to develop 10 coal-fired power plants has been signed.
In the period, Myanmar sets to generate 1,301MW from natural gas, 520MW from solar power and 4,032MW from wind.
The MoA was signed for two solar power projects with capacity of 520MW. Among them, 300-MW Nabuaing and Wundwin plant will be established in Mandalay Region while the 220-MW Minbu plant will be set up in Magway Region.
In August, US-based ACO Investment Group signed an agreement with the Ministry of Electric Power, paving the way for two 150-megawatt solar energy plants that will require an investment of US$480 million.
In 2013, Green Earth Power (Thailand) agreed to invest $275 million in a 210-MW solar farm.
The MoUs were also signed for three new wind power projects with combined capacity of 4,032MW.
To the official, the investment is possible in three ways: ventures owned by the ministry, investment by local enterprises under the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model, and investment by foreign firms through BOT joint ventures. To award approval, the ministry will take into account the electricity cost, generation efficiency, and environmental and social impacts.
Foreign investors can submit their proposals to the ministry which must be attached with location maps, features of the projects and approval from the related state or region government. The ministry will review the proposal and submit reasonable ones to the economic committee of the Union Cabinet to get approval in principle.
After getting approval in principle, a draft MoU will be discussed between the parties and dispatched to the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, Ministry of Finance, and Union Attorney-General Office for further approval. With the ministries' approval, the MoU will be submitted to the economic committee of the Union Cabinet to get approval for signing the MOU. With the approval of the economic committee, the MOU will be submitted to a Union Cabinet meeting and can be signed if approved at the meeting.
After that, the investor must conduct a project feasibility study and submit a report to the ministry within a targeted date stipulated in the MoU. If the investor fails to do so, the signed MoU will be automatically dissolved.
The project feasibility study report will be reviewed by the ministry. If the ministry assumes it is technically and commercially feasible, the parties can carry out signing the MoA. After signing the MoA, the investor needs to assign an internationally credible organisation other than contracting parties and countries to conduct environmental impact assessments.
"Transparency is crucial. While conducting the assessments, the investor needs to transparently elaborate the project plans, benefits and impacts caused by the construction works, mitigation measures for environmental and social impacts, resettlement plans, etc. to local residents, authorities concerned, and media personnel,"
The environmental and social impact reports will be sent to the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry for comments and recommendations. After approval from the ministry, the agreement or joint venture agreement can be signed and the project can start implementation.