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Experts Urge Govt to Embrace Renewable Energy

The Irrawaddy 14 July 2017 | Nyein Nyein

YANGON – Experts urged the government to consider including renewable energy sources in the national energy plan at a talk concerning a “clean energy vision for Myanmar” in Yangon on Thursday.

U Aung Myint, the director of Renewable Energy Association Myanmar (REAM) said that they had expected that the National League for Democracy government would implement a sustainable policy approach for the new energy sector. However, he noted that this has not been the case.

“The current circumstances show that Myanmar’s energy sector is going against the direction widely accepted in the world,” U Aung Myint said, referring to a focus on the greater use of renewable energy sources.

On Wednesday in Naypyitaw, civil society groups, members of the private sector and international lenders participated in a roundtable discussion with the Ministry of Electricity and Energy.

The coalition of energy experts said in a statement that since Myanmar is focusing largely on coal and large hydropower plants, it “is missing a major opportunity to develop its renewable energy potential.”

“The coal plants and mega dams are ‘dinosaur’ technologies that have severe negative impacts on climate change, public health, biodiversity and local livelihoods,” the statement said.

Renewable energy sources as such solar and wind power are the cleanest and cheapest options, said Hans-Josef Fell, a renewable energy expert from German Energy Watch. He is a former member of Parliament, representing his country’s Green Party, and has advocated worldwide for a stronger embrace of renewable energy.

He shared experiences from Germany, as well as those of China and Bangladesh, concerning the uses and benefits of renewable energy.

Fell said that when Germany started the use of renewable energy 17 years ago, the situation was comparable to present-day Myanmar. They started with a target of six percent use in 2000, and have increased to 35 percent in 2017.

Solar and wind power generate an abundance of electricity and sell at cheaper prices than heavily financed coal plants, Fell explained, adding that Germany has a target of 100 percent use of renewable energy by 2030.

In order to maintain power plants, Myanmar would have to import coal, part of the previous U Thein Sein-led government’s plan to achieve 33 percent electricity generation from such plants.

The chief ministers in Mon and Karen states have urged the establishment of coal plants as an immediate solution to meet the demand for electricity, despite civil society groups objecting to the energy source.

Earlier this week, on July 11, the Shan Human Rights Foundation said that residents of Nanma village in northern Shan State’s Hsipaw Township, have been experiencing “health concerns” after inhaling dust from coal mines in the region.

U Aung Myint urged the National League for Democracy government to “act in accordance with its election manifesto and promote renewable energy as a matter of political and economic importance.”

“If the government hopes to be ‘together with the people’ it needs to show that it is willing to listen to concerns about its energy development and grid extension plans before making decisions,” he added.

Hans-Josef Fell echoed that “political will and support” would be key in succeeding in developing renewable energy sources and strengthening the stability of the electricity grid.

He also highlighted the cost-effective aspect of these provisions, and that it could create jobs.

Myanmar’s recent energy master plan lacks an outline of renewable energy uses, including biomass energy that could be generated in the country, U Aung Myint said.

U Win Myo Thu, an environmentalist and the director of EcoDev, said much information is available to policymakers, but that the desire to create change would depend upon them.

He told The Irrawaddy that Myanmar “needs the political leadership to take a new path for the challenge, as people tend to be attached to the existing method, which does not need much effort.”

The government needs to consult with the public in order to conduct hydropower plants, which are not mega dams, the environmentalist said, adding that the project could go ahead if the government acts transparently.

“If we are able to use efficient technology for small and medium hydropower plants for electricity generation, then we wouldn’t have to use mega dams,” U Win Myo Thu said.