Monday, May 10, 2010

Coal-powered plant: Sabah group to take on BN

By Michael Kaung

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Environmental Protection Association (Sepa) is bracing for an all out battle to stop the government from railroading a proposed coal-fired power plant on the east coast of the state.

Among the options Sepa is considering is an injunction to prevent the government from pushing ahead with the 300-megawatt plant costing RM1.3 billion at a site in the now pristine Sahabat in Tunku, Lahad Datu.

"We with (the residents of) Sahabat will take their (governtment’s) consultant to court if there is any misleading information or cover-up about the effects of the power plant on the eco-system of the surrounding area," Sepa president Wong Tack warned.

"We with (the residents of) Sahabat will take their (governtment’s) consultant to court if there is any misleading information or cover-up about the effects of the power plant on the eco-system of the surrounding area," Sepa president Wong Tack warned.

In a hard-hitting interview yesterday, Wong said the government and its agencies have turned a deaf ear to pleas to protect the ecologically sensitive area and persist on building the plant despite protests from Sabahans.

"They already classified the area as environmentally insensitive long before a study was made so what are they talking about getting an EIA (environment impact assessment) done.

"This (EIA) is just eyewash and rhetoric. It's nonsense. It's to soften people up before announcing the decision to build the plant anyway. Why conduct a study when you have already made up your mind? Why need an EIA?

"It is misleading, unprofessional and unethical since the government and its agencies have already decided to build the plant…it's all a political game," he said.

Wong was referring to recent statements by government politicians as well as senior officials from power utilities Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) and its state subsidiary Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB) arguing for the setting up of such a plant.

On Sunday, Project Director of Lahad Datu Energy Sdn Bhd (LDESB) Ahmad Faraid Mohd Yahaya told the national news agency Bernama that the east coast of the state would benefit from the coal-powered plant as it would provide reliable electricity supply to the area which in turn would attract investors.

SESB went so far as to put out a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper to explain their supportive stand on the plant.

The detailed EIA study of the proposed site is currently in progress and the final report is expected to be submitted in a few weeks by the Department of Environment.

"Approval is expected by August. We are transparent even on the terms of reference (TOR) of the EIA which has been displayed for public viewing and feedback before we submit the report," Ahmad Faraid had said.

What transparency

But Wong says nothing has changed as far as Sepa is concerned. H
e also disputes the claim of transparency by the government.

"The first TOR was rejected and they have already come out with a second one which uses the same language and terminology, the same arguments about environmentally insensitive area even before the study shows how this is proved.

"They are also only looking at coal and not at alternate, clean and renewable energy sources for the state.

"They can't claim we were biased as the panel who rejected it (the first TOR) was composed of government department and agency heads.

"They told us not to politicise the issue and we agree. No politicians or their officers should be involved. Let the people and the scientific experts do the study.

“But here, the experts brought in to do the study are not independent. All the decisions are political decisions.

"The government and its agencies are in partnership. The regulatory people are in the pocket of the government.

“There is inter-dependency not independency. If they are truly open, why have they not responded to our requests to meet with the cabinet?

“Our independent experts conducted a professional study and wanted to brief them (the state government) but they did not respond to our request.”

"We spent our own funds to get this professional study done on alternate and renewable energy and submitted it to them but there has been no response.

"Nevertheless we will scrutinize the government's (EIA) report. We will get independent and professional experts to advise…weed out any misleading information or cover-ups. We will sue if there is any such nonsense," said Wong.

Marine environment in danger?He added that what is puzzling is the multiple policies the government has for the area. On one hand the Sabah Development Corridor recognises the sensitivity and beauty of the area and earmarked it for tourism.

Vested interests

On the other, it is disregarding this policy in favour of industrialising it and spurring development of the Palm Oil Industrial Cluster (POIC).

"The whole area is in 'Coral Triangle'. It is internationally recognized and is supposed to be a protected marine environment. It is not suitable for any industrial activity and this is acknowledged by the state government."

The incompatibility of the two government policies poses the question as to why the government U-turned overnight after initially rejecting setting up the power plant in Silam and then in Sandakan.

Wong points to pre-determined and lucrative business links in high places. These will only pay off if the coal-powered plant is built.

"It looks like some vested interests are involved. The way they (the government) have been acting, people are speculating that perhaps deals have already been signed and maybe money has already changed hands," he says.

No comments: