Friday, August 18, 2017

Thai cement giant tackles Mon coal fears

Siam Cement Group has invited a number of monks to visit its plant in Thailand, as part of the company’s efforts to ease local concerns about a coal-burning plant that will power its new cement factory in Kyaikmaraw, Mon State.

A worker leans on a pile of cement bags on a boat near a jetty of Yangon River. Photo: AFPA worker leans on a pile of cement bags on a boat near a jetty of Yangon River. Photo: AFP

Mawlamyine Cement Limited (MCL), a joint venture between SGC and Pacific Link Cement Industries, is building a US$400 million cement plant in Mon State, due to open in mid-2016.

To power the project, the company is building a coal-fired power plant in the compound, which has raised concerns among the local community.

U Kaysara, head monk at the nearby Kun Ngan Village monastery said the plant was nearing completion but that the company had not given any information to local residents.

He does not want the plant to have a negative effect on the environment or on villagers, he said. Coal-burning power plants produce carbon dioxide emissions, which cause global warming and can lead to smog and acid rain.

U Naing Saw Mon of the Mon State Human Rights Foundation said MCL has taken no steps to inform local people about its chosen source of power generation. “No one from the factory told us they would get their electricity from coal. People have only heard about it now, and are worried.”

MCL’s managing director Wijit Terasarun said he was aware of concerns raised by the local community regarding the cement plant’s power supply.

“Environmental protection as well as the health and safety of the community and our employees are very important to us,” he said. “Taking this into account, we designed and constructed our operations to minimise impact on the community and environment.”

In 2013, Resource and Environment Myanmar completed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project, he said, which was submitted to the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC).

Over the past year, he added, MCL has held four events for local people to visit the plant and learn about the facility, including its energy sources.

“We have engaged with the community, government officials and employees, and provided our energy and environmental protection plans,” he said.

“This week, we invited 14 monks from the local community to visit our cement plant in Lampang, Thailand, which has similar technology and environmental preservation as the MCL plant in Myanmar. We have plans to actively engage with stakeholders over the next year.”

Residents have also raised concerns that the coal-fired power plant is being built without approval. Two local authorities contacted by The Myanmar Times said they had no knowledge of it.

“When we asked [MCL] officials how they would power the cement plant, they said they would generate power on their own, because electricity shortages could cost them a lot,” said U Naing Lawi Aung, minister of electric power and industry for Mon State.

“We should have asked them exactly how they plan to do this, but they didn’t tell us they were building a coal-fired plant.”

An official in the Kyaikmaraw Township Administration Office said his office also only knew about the cement factory, not the coal plant. On the other hand, Mr Terasarun said authorities had been well informed.

“[Last year] there were nine or 10 unofficial visits last year from the Mon State ministers, Kyaikmaraw township administrators, other government officials, officers of Mon State and the heads of the surrounding villages to the plant,” he said.

U Aung Naing Oo, representative for Chaungzone township, said local residents had asked him to visit the plant. He has plans to, he said, and if necessary will invite the company to the state hluttaw to discuss the project.

“As far as I heard, the coal plant is supposed to supply electricity to the cement factory,” he said.

Mr Terasarun said his company has received MIC approval for “an integrated cement plant consisting of a small self-use electricity utility that generates 40-megawatt energy power from coal and biomass and a 9- megawatt Waste Heat Generator to assist in producing power”.

The WHG system helps lessen the dependency on electricity and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, he said. “In all of our facilities across the region, protecting the environment is a priority and we actively take steps to reduce our impact.” Mr Terasarun said the company uses premium quality coal with low sulfur and strictly abides by the law, meeting, “the highest international standards”, he said.

Coal has divided opinion in Myanmar, with some civil society groups claiming it is environmentally unfriendly, and others saying it is necessary for Myanmar’s development.


Additional reporting by Clare Hammond, translation by Kyawt Darly Lin