DIVISIONS ARE hardening in KAYIN State over a planned coal-fired power plant that the government says is needed to support development but is opposed by some community groups due to worries about its possible impact on the environment.
The concerns focus mainly on the advanced technology that will be used at the US$2.8 billion power plant in Hpa-an Township, enabling it to burn less coal per megawatt hour than other methods of generating electricity from coal. Thai construction company TTCL Public Co Ltd and the state government signed a memorandum of understanding on April 3, 2017, to build the plant, which is expected to generate 1,280 megawatts when it is fully operational in 2024. TTCL has a 95 percent share in the project, with the state government holding the remaining five percent.
The site chosen for the plant covers 333 hectares (825 acres) on the THANLIWIN (Salween) River, about 20 miles north of downtown Hpa-An, and the affected communities include THONEINN village.
KAYIN State minister for electricity and industry said that the project has been approved by the state government and was now awaiting approval from the Union government.
"Having approved it, we will begin implementing the project as soon as possible," he told Frontier on January 5.
But the project has met fierce resistance from local residents.
U THONEINN, the abbot of a monastery in THONEINN village, is skeptical about claims that the advanced technology to be used at the plant will have no negative effect on the environment.
"What we know about coal is that it is not accepted in every state and region in the country," TAYZANIYA said, citing opposition to Myanmar's first coal-fired power plant at TIGYIT in southern SHAN State. The facility's operations were suspended by the Union Solidarity and Development Party government in 2014 amid community complaints about pollution but local residents have raised concerns that work could soon re-begin after test operations were conducted there in late 2016.
In November 2016, local residents were invited by KAYIN State Chief Minister, an enthusiastic backer of the project, to join a group inspection tour of coal-fired power plants in Japan. U KUTHALA, a monk from THAIKTAW village, joined the trip alongside 20 other people from the local community. He said that they learned how coal-fired plants can provide jobs for local people.
"However, I learned that coal power plants in Japan are built a long distance from where people live," he said, adding that if the THANLWIN project was to go ahead, then the government and the private company should talk to local people about the job opportunities and health risks.
"As far as we are aware, we know what impact coal can have and we worry about future risks, but there are always pros and cons," KUTHALA said.
Local resident Saw Nay Lin HTUN, a Karen, said he wanted to see development in his home state, but hoped that it would go hand-in-hand with peace.
"We do not want coal at all and that is why we are asking the state government if a coal-fired power plant is the only solution to support development," he said. "We want a solution that doesn't involve coal."
Nay Lin HTUN said the state government and TTLC had given villagers only positive messages about using coal but CSOS has told affected communities to expect long-term negative impacts from the power plant.