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2008 Oct 7 - Do not force the coal fired power plant on the people of Sandakan

SAPP: Do not force the coal fired power plant on the people of Sandakan

Kota Kinabalu (7 October 2008): The disclosure by the Sarawak Minister of Public Utilities Datuk Seri Awang Tengah Awang Ali Hassan last Saturday (October 4) that Sabah was holding talks with Sarawak on the purchase of energy from Sarawak shows that there are viable alternatives to the Ringgit 1.3 billion 300 MW coal-fired power plant proposed to be sited in Sandakan soon.

By way of a transmission line from the 1000 MW Murum dam, Sarawak is also expected to supply up to 400 megawatts (MW) of electricity to Brunei by 2013.

Therefore, SAPP feels strongly that Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), the 80% owner of Sabah Electricity Sdn. Bhd. has not sufficiently considered non-coal options before embarking on the proposed coal power plant in the East Coast of Sabah.

In unprecedented full page advertisements in local newspapers in June this year, the Chairman of TNB, Tan Sri Leo Moggie, had claimed that coal was "the only viable option for eastern Sabah".

But by the TNB Chairman's own admission, natural gas was more environmentally friendly and faster to build than a coal power plant. Granted that solar power, wind power and bio-mass are not yet commercially viable, TNB has a basic duty to the people of Sabah to invest in hydroelectric power and natural gas energy. Official publications of TNB and SESB show that the TNB had advanced knowledge of the proposed combined cycle gas power plant in Kimanis, and had planned the Liwagu and Upper Padas hydroelectric dams and the options to purchase electric power from the proposed hydropower dams at Lawas and Limbang in Sarawak. Yet TNB and SESB have been stubbornly engrossed with coal "as the only viable option" for eastern Sabah.

In fact, two Hari Rayas ago in 2006, Tan Sri Leo had stated that, other than Silam in Lahad Datu, there was not that much option. How could it be that today Sandakan has become an option? If a coal-fired power plant is bad for Lahad Datu on environmental grounds, how could it be good for Sandakan, a neighbouring nature city?

The wide media coverage on climate change and the pollution of coal power in countries such as China has awakened Sabahans. Concerned citizens have come up with such convincing arguments against coal power that the State Government had to reject the proposed coal power plant in Lahad Datu on environmental grounds. The State Government's rejection of the Lahad Datu site in April this year has effectively made it illogical for anybody to justify Sandakan as a site. Sandakan is only two hours' drive from Lahad Datu. Clean coal technology could not have improved so dramatically ever since April. And, presumably, the contract signed by TNB with China contractors early this year is still the same one. Nothing has changed; so how can it be that what is bad for the Lahad Datu environment is good for the Sandakan environment?

Recent statements made by the elected representatives and other officials in Sandakan convey the impression that the people of Sandakan would be forced by the prospect of severe power blackouts by year 2011 to grudgingly accept the coal power plant. If so, such a crude way to force the coal power plant on the people is highly irresponsible.

In admitting that coal is a polluter, TNB has relied on the assumption that the management of the coal power plant will be faultless and with strict compliance with EIA conditions. The reality today is that the people of Sabah, including in Sandakan, face persistent power failures. Even SESB transmission towers have collapsed due to metal thefts. As for enforcement of EIA conditions, the people have a right to be skeptical. When rivers are openly polluted, huge logs smuggled under the noses of the authorities, illegal immigrants roam glaringly on the streets, turtle eggs freely available in the Sandakan market, Sandakan airport without water, our public delivery system is so weak and maintenance culture so lacking, how can the people be expected to take the risks of a potentially disastrous coal power plant in their neighbourhood?

Irrespective of what the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) might have to say, the social impact of the coal-fired power plant will be to cause much distress and anxiety to Sandakan residents and impact on the social-economic and tourism development of this future city leading to a crisis of confidence on the ability of their government to protect and promote their interests and livelihood.

It is for this reason that SAPP calls on the authorities, including the State and Federal governments, to urgently get TNB to embark on and invest in non-coal energy options such as:

  1. The natural gas power plant in Kimanis. It does not make sense for Petronas to pipe Sabah's natural gas 500 km to Bintulu via a RM 3 billion pipeline and then make Sabah import hydroelectric power from Sarawak. What is so difficult for Petronas to build the natural gas plant in Kimanis?

  2. Expedite the 200 MW Liwagu hydroelectric dam which is ideally located in the middle of the East-West Grid interconnection,

  3. To fully utilize the existing under used 275 kilovolts (kV) East West Grid for power transfer from the West Coast to the East Coast,

  4. If TNB insists to site a power plant in the East Coast for reasons of security of supply in an "islanded" network, then a gas pipeline from Kimanis to Tawau should be considered. After all, the pipeline distance from Kimanis to Tawau via Sapulut is shorter, less complicated and cheaper than that to Bintulu.

  5. Import of power from Sarawak.

The duty is on TNB to explain why none of these options is possible. It is also the responsibility of the State Government to ensure sufficient supply of electric supply without compromising the environment and the health of the people.

Present at the press conference at SAPP HQ, President Datuk Yong Teck Lee, former Assistant Minister of Resource Development cum Women Wing Chief YB Melanie Chia Chui Ket, SAPP CLC Chairman for Tanjung Papat Poon Kee Yang, CLC Chairman for Sekong constituency Datuk Tain Fook En and Dr. Yeo Hock Huat.

Dr. Yeo, a Sabahan who used to work in Penang and the United States in the field of energy-related technology, is one of the professionals who have assisted SAPP in the research. He holds a Ph.D in Electrical Engineering (2000) and Masters of Engineering Physics (1996) from Cornell University and a First Class in Physics (1994) from York University in Canada. He is presently Technical Director responsible for renewable and energy-saving products with a local company. Dr. Yeo has published more than 10 papers in international journals and conferences.


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