CSOs urge cancellation of coal, large hydro projects

YANGON—Hundreds of civil society organisations have urged the government to formally abandon plans for coal power plants and large-scale hydropower projects and instead embrace renewable energy.

Some CSO leaders have also criticised the National League for Democracy for excluding the public from a review of the country’s energy policies.

The 422 CSOs said in a statement that the former government had approved dozens of large-scale coal and hydro plants without adequate transparency or community consultation and these projects had been “clearly been rejected by affected communities”.

“The new National League for Democracy-led government needs to be transparent about the future of proposed coal power plants and hydropower dams in Myanmar and quickly inform the public about its energy plans to avoid repeating the mistakes of the last government. All contracts for proposed mega development projects should be published without hesitation,” they said in the statement, which was issued on Tuesday during the Green Energy Forum.

The statement comes as the government undertakes a review of the energy policies drafted by its predecessor. This includes Myanmar’s Energy Master Plan, which was written with support from the Asian Development Bank.

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Under the plan, Myanmar would generate around 30 percent of its power from coal by 2030, while non-hydro renewables would generate just 5 percent.

The government has said that it does not plan to proceed with the coal plants, but it is yet to release an updated policy or make a decision on projects that are already underway.

U Aung Myint, general secretary of Renewable Energy Association Myanmar, said now was an important time for the government to act “transparently” on its power plans.

He noted that despite widespread community opposition to large-scale hydro dams, the government had not given any indication of its intentions for the projects.

“It seems as though the government does not really have a policy or mechanism to handle the issue,” Aung Myint said.

He said the public had been frozen out of the government’s review of energy policy, with the NLD instead relying on bureaucrats, international financial institutions and donors, and foreign businesses.

“The government came to power promising to work with the people. That’s not happening at the moment,” he said.

Arguably the most contentious planned project is the Myitsone Dam at the confluence of the Ayeyarwady River in Kachin State.

In August, the government formed a commission to review the Myitsone and several other dams on the Ayeyarwady’s tributaries. The commission submitted its first report in November, but the government has refused to release it.

Daw Lu Yar and her family were forcibly shifted from Tanpe village to Aung Myay Thar San village in Kachin State when work began on the Myitsone. She told journalists on Tuesday that her family and others in the village were facing a range of challenges, including lack of jobs and poor educational opportunities.

She said she also opposes the dam on cultural grounds.

“The Myitsone is the inheritance of the Kachin people. But it’s also the birthplace of the Ayeyarwady, so [the Myitsone Dam] concerns people all around Myanmar,” she said.

She added that Kachin people had voted for the NLD because they believed it would cancel the project, which was suspended by former President U Thein Sein in 2011.

“We voted for the NLD because we wanted change, but we haven’t seen any changes yet.”

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