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Govt sidesteps controversial Thanlwin in hydropower push

Htoo Thant

U Htay Aung, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Electric Power and Energy, told The Myanmar Times last week that the projects – the Shweli (3), Upper Yeywa and Upper Kyaing Taung dams – are seen by the ministry as a means of meeting energy-deprived Myanmar’s electricity needs, while noting that the earliest expected completion dates were 2020.

Along with a fourth dam under construction in Rakhine State and a fifth in Nay Pyi Taw’s Pyinmana township, the projects’ electricity generation will total more than 1500 megawatts, he said, nearly half of Myanmar’s current installed capacity nationwide.

“We aim to ramp up power generation capacity annually to supply more electricity in the country,” he added.

The 280-megawatt Upper Yeywa dam in Kyaukme township, northern Shan State, is slated for completion in 2020. About 25 percent finished at present, development at the site on the Myitnge River began in 2011 and nearly K16.8 billion (US$13.8 million) has been set aside this year for ongoing construction.

The smallest of the Shan dams, the 51-megawatt Upper Kyaing Taung project in Moe-ne/Mong Nai township shares a 2020 targeted completion date, with development begun in 2009. Located on the Kyaing Taung River, it has been budgeted K10.78 billion this year.

Construction of the far larger Shweli (3) dam, on the river of the same name in Shan State’s Momeik/Mong Mit township, began in 2010-11 but it is not expected to be up and running until the 2021-22 fiscal year. K7.9 billion has been appropriated this fiscal year for continued development on the 1050-megawatt dam.

To the west, the 111-megawatt Thahtay dam in Rakhine State’s Thandwe township is about 42pc complete, with a 2024 finish date and budget allocation of K46 billion this year, while the 100-megawatt Middle Paung Laung project in Pyinmana township has been allocated K588 million this financial year after site surveying was conducted in 2015.

With Myanmar’s electricity demand increasing at an annual rate of about 15 percent, the Ministry of Electric Power and Energy is also considering construction of coal- and gas-fired power plants to fill the capacity gap. But a Reuters report this week said the government was leaning toward continuing the country’s current heavy reliance on hydropower.

Last month a Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation official laid out a series of steps the company was taking in an attempt to reduce recurrent blackouts in the commercial capital, including an expansion of YESC’s staff and financing, and installation of new transformers for more efficient electricity transmission.

The National League for Democracy government will face competing demands in the years ahead, however, as it seeks to balance the need for development with local populations that have objected to energy projects initiated by its predecessor. Their concerns range from a lack of consultation during implementation to environmental degradation and the location of several hydro-projects in conflict zones, with accusations that the dams actively fuel fighting between ethnic armed groups and the Tatmadaw.

Earlier this year a committee was created to assess proposed dams on the Ayeyarwady River. The controversial Myitsone dam, at the confluence that marks the beginning of the river, was suspended in 2011 amid public outcry.

Since the NLD took power in late March, calls have been mounting for a Myitsone-style suspension of proposed dams along the Thanlwin River.

Translation by Thiri Min Htun