Coal provokes debate

The concerns of civil society must be taken into account and strong technology must be used if the negative effects of coal-fired power generation are to be minimised, according to experts.

The future use of coal power has been opposed by some local residents and civil society groups, who are concerned about possible environmental and social affects. Earlier this month, senior officials from the Ministry of Electric Power told The Myanmar Times they plan to move forward on several coal-fired projects, claiming they are necessary to improve the poor domestic electrification rates.

Local and international experts are split on the issue, with some claiming coal is exceptionally environmentally unfriendly and should be stopped, and others saying it is necessary to move forward with the dozen or so projects for which Myanmar has signed memorandums of understanding since 2010.

Speaking at a Yangon summit hosted by The Economist on May 15, Asian Development Bank vice president Stephen Groff said there is a place for coal generation in Asia’s future energy supply.

“There are good and bad technologies when it comes to coal, but there are energy poverties that need to be addressed, so using some coal is unavoidable,” he said.

“We need to make sure the latest technology is available in order to minimise [any] negative impact.”

Not everyone said they agreed with Mr Groff’s assessment. U Win Myo Thu, co-founder and managing director of Ecodev, said at the summit that there are a range of groups in opposition to the fuel.

“Today, coal power is a great concern internationally as the world is looking at to reduce carbon emissions [which cause] climate change,” he said.

“I think international institutions advising the government such ADB should help deliver this concern.”

Mr Groff said the ADB is focusing on improving the transmission and distribution system, as power loss is as high as 25 percent. The institution has worked on two transmission projects in Myanmar as well as an off-grid renewable plan with the Ministry of Electric Power, he said.

“There is always set to be a balance between energy poverty and potential negative impacts. We need to make sure we take these concerns into account when designing projects to minimise negative impacts,” he said.

Ken Tun, chief executive officer of local firm Parami Energy, said that many of these infrastructure projects also do not allow a large portion for a local owner. Myanmar firms may own less than 5pc of the total new investment in the local energy sector.

“Whatever projects are implemented, the question is what is the net benefit for Myanmar,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times (By Aung Shin   |   Monday, 18 May 2015 )