Ex­perts say govt has bet­ter op­tions than My­it­sone Dam

The In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion, a mem­ber of the World Bank group, are of the opin­ion the coun­try has bet­ter op­tions than con­tin­u­ing the moth­balled My­it­sone Dam pro­ject.

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Front Page - THOMP­SON CHAU [email protected]­times.com

A gov­ern­ment-spon­sored study warned against restart­ing the highly con­tro­ver­sial My­it­sone dam and rec­om­mended al­ter­na­tives to de­velop the coun­try’s hy­dropower sec­tor.

The fi­nal ver­sion of the Strate­gic En­vi­ron­men­tal As­sess­ment (SEA) of the hy­dropower sec­tor, sup­ported by the en­ergy and en­vi­ron­ment min­istries and au­thored by the In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion, has been pub­lished. The SEA in­volved a range of hy­dropower, en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial and con­flict ex­perts and of­fered gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety stake­hold­ers a chance to make an in­put.

The re­port pro­poses cas­cade de­vel­op­ment -- mul­ti­ple dams on cer­tain rivers, al­low­ing other rivers to be left in­tact. It also makes clear rec­om­men­da­tions that dams on main­stem rivers such as the Aye­yarwady - where My­it­sone is lo­cated - and Thanl­win are high risk for Myan­mar through their im­pacts on the ecosys­tems on which the pop­u­la­tions down­stream de­pend. Hence, My­it­sone, Mong­ton and the other dams should be avoided be­cause of their neg­a­tive down­stream im­pacts, and de­vel­op­ment of new hy­dropower should fo­cus on other op­por­tu­ni­ties and pri­ori­tise those in river sub-basins with lower en­vi­ron­men­tal val­ues.

This is the first SEA con­ducted in Myan­mar, pro­vid­ing a tech­ni­cal ba­sis for the gov­ern­ment to take strate­gic de­ci­sions on the legacy projects on main­stream rivers.

The as­sess­ment found that the My­it­sone dam is “not con­sid­ered to be con­sis­tent with sus­tain­able hy­dropower prin­ci­ples.” It said the hy­dropower pro­ject would lead to se­vere im­pact on the river sys­tem pro­cesses. The dam would dis­con­nect and reg­u­late flows from 11.6pc of the Aye­yarwady basin area that con­trib­utes an es­ti­mated 42pc of the to­tal basin dis­charge, flow­ing from the Mali Hka (27pc) and N’mai Hka (15pc) rivers, and would sub­stan­tially re­duce basin sed­i­ment load.

The re­port warned that pro­ceed­ing with five large planned dams on main­stems, in­clud­ing the Aye­yarwady, Chind­win and Thanl­win, Mekong and the lower Sit­taung, rang­ing be­tween 1200 MW and 7000 MW, would “com­pletely al­ter the river sys­tem’s hy­dro­logic, sed­i­ment trans­port, and ge­o­mor­phic func­tion­ing. The cu­mu­la­tive im­pacts of these projects would cut river con­nec­tiv­ity, al­ter the flow regime and trap sed­i­ment at a basin scale, and af­fect re­gional coastal and ma­rine ecosys­tems.”

“It is rec­om­mended that all larger scale and higher im­pact projects are not de­vel­oped in High zone sub­basins [where My­it­sone is lo­cated], but smaller scale, lower im­pact projects are con­sid­ered where these projects can be de­vel­oped within wa­ter­sheds without un­duly de­grad­ing key nat­u­ral re­sources and so­cio-eco­nomic value. Such projects can play a prom­i­nent role in sup­ply­ing re­li­able and af­ford­able off-grid and grid-con­nected re­new­able en­ergy to com­mu­ni­ties, util­is­ing lo­cal nat­u­ral re­sources,” the SEA con­cluded.

The fi­nal re­port’s re­lease co­in­cided with wide­spread lob­by­ing by the dam de­vel­oper to re­sus­ci­tate the mas­sive pro­ject, seven years after the sus­pen­sion. In June, China’s state-run me­dia Global Times printed an ar­ti­cle ar­gu­ing for restart­ing the con­struc­tion and warned that sus­pen­sion would “drive down in­vestor con­fi­dence”.

My­it­sone is one of seven hy­dropower plants planned for the up­per reaches of the Aye­yarwady River as well as the Mali and N’mai, at whose con­flu­ence the Aye­yarwady starts. The 6000MW dam, backed by State Power In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (SPIC, then known as China Power In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion), was sup­posed to send 90pc of its elec­tric­ity to China’s Yun­nan Prov­ince. Then-pres­i­dent U Thein Sein sus­pended work in build­ing the US$3.6 bil­lion dam in 2011, ow­ing to wide­spread op­po­si­tion within the coun­try.

Jo­ern Kris­tensen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Myan­mar In­sti­tute for In­te­grated De­vel­op­ment (MIID) and for­mer Mekong River Com­mis­sion di­rec­tor­gen­eral, said the sus­pen­sion of the mega-dam “did go some way” in build­ing the trust be­tween the peo­ple and the rul­ing class. As the is­sue of re­sus­ci­tat­ing the dam is re-emerg­ing, pushed by the Chi­nese state-owned SPIC, he ar­gued that the ques­tion of trust will be com­ing back to the fore­front for the NLD lead­er­ship.

U Win Myo Thu from Ecodev em­pha­sised the key ques­tion, “Does Myan­mar has al­ter­na­tive hy­dropower re­sources other than the most crit­i­cised ones like My­it­sone or Thanl­win?” The an­swer, he said, is a clear yes.

Just by tap­ping into hy­dropower from low and medium risk zones alone, as de­fined by the SEA, would re­sult in more than 12,000 MW pro­duced. “Since our elec­tric­ity de­mand by 2030 would be around 15-18,000MW, at the av­er­age GDP growth of 8pc p.a, the amount of elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion from that low/ medium risk zones are pretty suf­fi­cient, com­bin­ing with other en­ergy mix such as so­lar and gas,” he ex­plained.

“As long as we get elec­tric­ity from the ar­eas where the so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­verse im­pacts are min­i­mal or man­age­able, why do we need to bother about build­ing big, con­tro­ver­sial dams?” U Win Myo Thu said, ar­gu­ing that eco­log­i­cal loss alone by the dam would far ex­ceed US$800 mil­lion - the amount Chi­nese in­vestors are seek­ing for com­pen­sa­tion in re­la­tion to the ter­mi­na­tion.

Pos­i­tive agenda for hy­dropower For Myan­mar Cen­tre for Re­spon­si­ble Busi­ness’ Vicky Bow­man, the SEA presents a pos­i­tive agenda for hy­dropower, and clearly iden­ti­fies which river basins have po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ing suf­fi­cient hy­dropower for the coun­try’s en­ergy de­mand in the least harm­ful way.

“Al­though some Chi­nese hy­dropower com­pa­nies, in their com­ments sub­mit­ted in con­sul­ta­tion, and in their cur­rent be­hind the scenes lob­by­ing in the en­ergy min­istry in Nay Pyi Taw, are try­ing to un­der­mine the re­port and present it as ‘anti-hy­dro’, it is any­thing but. There is a clear recog­ni­tion that Myan­mar’s hy­dropower po­ten­tial is a ma­jor as­set for the coun­try which should be de­vel­oped, par­tic­u­larly as al­ter­na­tives such as coal-fired power sta­tions will be en­vi­ron­men­tally harm­ful, gas is cur­rently in­suf­fi­cient, and so­lar and wind, while of­fer­ing some op­por­tu­ni­ties, are in­suf­fi­cient,” she ob­served.

The MCRB di­rec­tor said the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment could now base its de­ci­sions on “a very solid piece of tech­ni­cal ad­vice”. The de­ci­sions would al­low the gov­ern­ment to can­cel those con­tro­ver­sial and dam­ag­ing dam projects in­her­ited from the SPDC, and de­velop Myan­mar’s hy­dropower fu­ture in a sus­tain­able way, con­sis­tent with the Myan­mar Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Plan.

“The SEA is a hugely valu­able doc­u­ment for the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment, not least in view of the sys­tem­atic process un­der which it was un­der­taken, as the first SEA to be con­ducted in Myan­mar. “I would en­cour­age all hy­dropower stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing those com­pa­nies who ap­pear to be try­ing to re­sus­ci­tate the dam projects in Kachin State, to in­stead sup­port the SEA con­clu­sions and help the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment to achieve its sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties,” Ms Bow­man em­pha­sised.

Jo­ern Kris­tensen high­lighted the IFC study’s rec­om­men­da­tion that the area where My­it­sone is lo­cated should be pro­tected for long-term en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial sus­tain­abil­ity.

Rec­om­men­da­tions by the SEA ex­perts makes clear that the op­po­si­tion to the mega dam “can­not be re­ferred to as merely emo­tional,” Mr Kris­tensen stressed.

“Find­ing a way out of the dilemma be­tween a de­sire for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the fierce re­jec­tion by civil so­ci­ety of My­it­sone is both fun­da­men­tally sim­ple and over­whelm­ingly com­plex. It is about build­ing trust.

“China, as a ma­jor for­eign in­vestor in Myan­mar, could sup­port the gov­ern­ment in build­ing this trust by sim­ply giv­ing up push­ing for a restart of the My­it­sone pro­ject. As com­pen­sa­tion it should be given pri­or­ity in get­ting con­tracts to build some of the smaller dams that the SEA rec­om­mends as a sus­tain­able way of gen­er­at­ing hy­dropower,” he said. By do­ing so, Bei­jing would help it­self to at­tain sta­tus as an in­vestor that is wel­comed by the pub­lic in Myan­mar.

“It should not be dif­fi­cult. China does not need the elec­tric­ity that would be pro­duced by My­it­sone, and the peo­ple of Myan­mar doesn’t want the dam,” the ex­pert com­mented.

Mean­while, there are those who warn that the far-reach­ing neg­a­tive con­se­quences of My­it­sone would be ir­re­versible. “The gov­ern­ment should con­sider the fact that the Aye­yarwady is one of the last large free-flow­ing rivers re­main­ing in Asia and the neg­a­tive im­pacts of such a large dam could never be un­done,” Christo­pher Bonzi, WWF’S wa­ter and en­ergy spe­cial­ist, cau­tioned.

“We would strongly ad­vise the gov­ern­ment not to restart the work on My­it­sone pro­ject based on the dev­as­tat­ing so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts which have been well doc­u­mented,” he said, adding that the pro-hy­dropower premise of the re­port is not jus­ti­fied. Now that the as­sess­ment is com­pleted, Mr Kris­tensen urged the gov­ern­ment to use the SEA rec­om­men­da­tions as a foun­da­tion for pre­par­ing a master plan for the coun­try’s hy­dropower de­vel­op­ment.

The Min­istry of Elec­tric­ity and En­ergy can­not be reached for com­ment by press time.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.