By Su Phyo Win
Yangon, Myanmar, June 27, 2017
In order to fill the power gap in the country, the National League for Democracy will be pushing the government to consider clean coal as a viable option while implementing long-term hydropower projects.
As a press conference held last Sunday to address the energy gap, U Win Htein, a member of the NLD central executive committee, emphasised the need to have sufficient energy to develop the industries and the national infrastructure.
“Energy is vital for the country’s economic development. Having sufficient energy can help to develop infrastructure across the country.
“Clean coal technology is not said to be 100 percent clean. Many government officials visited China and Japan to see the clean coal factories since the new government took office,” he said.
U Win Htein added that regions and states such as Tanintharyi Region, Mon State and Kayin State should consider employing clean coal as it is more efficient as opposed to alternative energy sources.
“Clean coal technology is quite expensive but it will be a faster way to gain access to electricity for the regions which are not connected to the national grid.
“I can’t say the government is taking this into account by involving clean coal in the energy mix,” he said.
Daw Mi Mi Khaing, director general of the Department of Electric Power Planning, recently said to participants at the Myanmar-EU Economic Forum on June 8 that coal power is one of the options for enhancing the country’s energy security.
As long as the environmental and social impact is taken into account as well as the price, together with the technical feasibility of clean coal, the government cannot rule out coal for its energy policy, according to the director general.
She said the government is also taking into account the environmental and social impacts of energy projects as well as the pricing of power generation so the people and the industry can have affordable power.
The administration recognised coal-powered plants as one of the options to address the energy gap, but the population have to be consulted about whether coal should be used.
“From a technical point of view, coal is one of the options for closing the power gap.
“If we only consider natural gas, it might be difficult as we cannot be sure about the price of natural gas in the future. In contrast, coal price can be lower than the natural gas.
“Power generation cost can be reduced. Hence, we can offer consumers affordable price,” she told the audience of domestic and international businesses.
On the same platform, she noted that Myanmar has huge potential for the hydropower sector but hydropower can only be a long-term solution, given the time needed for those projects to be constructed and become operational.
But hydropower per se is not without controversy.
The previous government signed an agreement in 2006 with a Chinese company to build the Myitsone dam, which is targeted to generate 4600 megawatts of power on the country’s biggest river, the Ayeyarwady. The US$3.6 billion project was suspended in 2011 by then-president U Thein Sein, who cited widespread public opposition.
Contributing to Myitsone’s unpopularity was the widespread displacement of populations in the project area, concerns about the dam’s environmental impact and the terms of an agreement that would see some 90 percent of the electricity generated channelled to China.
The need for consultation and planning might be the reason the director general said hydropower projects take a long time before they become operational.
U Phyo Win Htun, Tanintharyi Region planning and finance minister, told The Myanmar Times on June 26 that there are no projects planned for the clean coal factories in the region so far.
Tanintharyi Region is not connected to the national power grid. The lack of access to the power grid has considerably affected the region’s development, and contributes to the fact that it lags behind other regions and states in the country, the regional minister added.
“Regarding the issue of clean coal factories, the chief minister and I also visited Japan to see how they operate [clean coal] and how it affects the community and the environment.
“In Japan, clean coal is handled very systematically and we do not see much harmful effects.
“Having said that, the regional governments have already promised to listen to community voices. We need to think about the development at the same time,” he said.
Coal power produces heavy pollutions and clean coal technology seeks to reduce harsh environmental effects by using multiple technologies to clean coal and contain its emissions.
According to the US-based National Mining Association, clean coal technologies are advances in emission control devices and boiler technologies that over several decades have led to more energy efficiency and lower emissions from coal electricity generation. Current technologies include integrated gasification combined cycle, low nitrogen oxide burner and fluidised-bed combustion.