By Kyi Kyi Sway
Yangon, Myanmar, November 16, 2016
If the people say “no” to coal, so do we, say government officials. In an interview with The Myanmar Times this week, a deputy permanent secretary of the Electricity and Energy Department has confirmed that the government has no plans to pursue coal-based energy.
“Whatever the last government may have done, we do not plan to implement coal energy. This government will do nothing that the people are opposed to,” said the official, who asked that his name not be used.
A plan devised by the last government involved agreements with China to build 11 coal-fired electricity plants, despite strong and widespread public protests.
However, one of the coal-fired plants, Tigyit, has reportedly been conducting tests for a potential resumption of operations after it was suspended two years ago due to residents’ complaints.
Tigyit was the first coal-fired power plant to be built in the country, by Myanma Electric Power Enterprise in 2001. Operations began in 2005, under the management of China National Heavy Machinery Corporation, with local companies Eden Group and Shan Yoma Nagar. Current upgrading work is being carried out by Wuxi Huagaung Electric Power Engineering, also of China.
U Soe Soe Zaw, secretary of the Shan State government, told The Myanmar Times last month that tests were being conducted for review purposes only, and did not necessarily signal a pending restart.
China itself is reportedly planning to cancel over a dozen coal-fired plants because of air pollution after Chinese authorities closed schools and offices in four cities, with a total population of about 50 million people, last year because of air pollution blamed on coal-burning. According to Xinhua, the cancelled projects “did not meet the qualifying conditions”.
The coal plants produced SPM (suspended particulate matter), a major cause of cancer above certain concentrations.
Greenpeace reported in October that the cancellations of altogether 30 coal projects represents a dramatic shift away from coal in China.
China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but has pledged to curb its carbon emissions at a rate set to peak in 2030.
Speaking on October 28 at an environmental conference in Myikyina, Dr Khin Mg Nyo, who has taught at Yangon University and affiliated colleges for 26 years, said, “Myanmar doesn’t have to accept other countries’ rubbish.”
Yangon now experiences serious air pollution because of the high concentration of industrial zones around the city and increasing numbers of vehicles.
A UNICEF study of the effects of air pollution on children in Myanmar and other developing countries followed a recent World Health Organization (WHO) data set that showed that Myanmars annual median concentration of microscopic pollution particles was 51, within an estimated range of 32 to 80. A concentration of 70 or above is seen as extremely unsafe. WHO numbers showed that upward of 22,000 deaths per year in Myanmar can be attributed to ambient air pollution, the third-highest per capita rate in the Southeast Asia region.
About 70pc of Myanmar’s electricity comes from hydropower. Very little comes from coal.
“Myanmar can bypass polluting energy and go straight to renewable options,” said Christy Williams, country director of WWF Myanmar, in a report released on November 1.