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Debate over coal-fired power plant in Karen State heats up

Coal from the Tigyit mine in Shan State. (Photo: DVB)

Locals and civil society organisations in Karen State are pushing back against plans for a coal-fired power plant in Hpa-an Township, where the project still has the blessing of the state’s leading official.

Nang Khin Htwe Myint, the Karen State chief minister, called for locals’ support of the project yesterday at the meeting hall of the state government office.

“Sometimes, people may have different perspectives and opinions. However, there must be a common goal: the development of Karen State,” she said in response to public objections to the proposed project. “Having that common goal, [the power plant’s opponents] should point out what is lacking in the project [instead of opposing it]. It should rather be a constructive support.”

Opponents are digging in, however.

“Since the plant has not been built yet, we have not witnessed the negative impacts of the project. However, we estimate that the negative impacts will not only affect those locals in the state but also others across the country,” said Tha Boe, coordinator of Karen Rivers Watch (KRW).

“Coal plants are inherently very dangerous,” Nang Tin Tin Hlaing, Karen State committee member of the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), told DVB.

“In foreign countries, programmes to reduce emissions from coal plants are being implemented. But here in this country, some are trying to build a coal-fired power plant project. I want to tell the authorities of the country to reconsider it. It [the project] is not going to help us, the citizens. It is going to jeopardise us.”

From 15-19 October, a group of 25 people, including Karen State locals and monks from villages near the proposed project area, went to Tenasserim Division and conducted field studies to learn about the social impacts of coal mines operated by the East Star and Thai Asset Mining companies in Dawei Township.

The group has also been looking into land-grabbing issues related to the deep-sea port and Special Economic Zone at Dawei, as well as a planned coal-fired power plant in Mon State’s Ye Township, which has similarly faced opposition among local residents there.

The public debate over coal-fired power generation in Burma has heated up in recent years, as increasingly vocal environmental groups face off against advocates of the technology who argue that it is a relatively expedient means of increasing the energy-starved country’s ability to generate electricity.

If the Hpa-an project goes forward, the Thai construction company TTLC will invest $3 billion in the coal-fired plant, with a power-generating capacity of 1,280 megawatts. The proposed facility is expected to meet the electricity demands of Karen State and also distribute power to other parts of the country.