Sunday, January 16, 2011
Anti coal stand has support!
We refer to the letter by Mr David Lee titled “Anti-coal group not majority” published in the Daily Express Forum page on Jan 9, 2011. While Mr Lee has every right to express his views over the issue of building a coal-fired power plant in Sabah, we believe there are many points which must be clarified.
It was stated that the anti-coal plant group, which was not named except in one sentence as “Green Turf” but is presumably in reference to Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future), does not represent the silent majority who has not spoken one way or another about the project proposal and would rather have electricity supplied to their homes and industries.
Contrary to this, the public has shown support towards Green SURF, as evidenced through social network sites and through personal communication with our members. Some of our coalition members have since 2008 collected over 50,000 signatures protesting the construction of a coal plant in Sabah.
At a public forum held last year, a majority of the 400 people who attended voiced their opposition towards the plant. When the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) study was put up for scrutiny, it is the public that came forward and wrote in to the Federal Department of Environment (DOE) with their views, with hundreds sending a copy of their letters to Green SURF. The DOE later rejected the study but its reasons were not made public.
It must also be pointed out that the Sabah State Government had made a decision in April 2008 when it rejected the proposed 300 megawatt plant when it was to be built in Silam, Lahad Datu, citing “health and environmental reasons.”
When a second proposal was made to have it sited in Sandakan, locals in the east coast town stood up to say no, and the project was quickly scrapped. A third site was proposed in September 2009, this time at the Dent Peninsula, and within a month, five influential non-governmental organisations got together to form Green SURF to lend a voice based on facts on why Sabah can do without a coal-fired power plant.
Green SURF subsequently commissioned University of California in Berkeley Professor of Energy, Daniel M. Kammen, to carry out an independent study on Sabah’s energy options. Prof Kammen, who is now Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at The World Bank, and his team concluded that 42 of 117 palm oil mills (when the study was carried out in the first quarter of 2010) in Sabah are large enough to produce 380MW of power. Based on costs and available incentives for renewable energy, the study found that biomass waste projects at large mills are cost-competitive with coal.
However, in order to generate power from palm oil waste, the Government must consider removing the 10MW cap imposed on independent power producers taking part in the Small Renewable Energy Production (SREP) programme. There is also a need for utility companies to buy electricity from SREP producers at more than the maximum 21 sen per kilowatt hour (kWh) paid now for energy from waste like biomass. The ball is in the Government’s court.
The study also advocates the phasing out of costly fossil-fuel subsidies that distort energy markets making them unfairly competitive with other options, and to continue studies on the feasibility of renewable investments at known geothermal, wind and environmentally-friendly micro hydro sites.
In short, there is no need for a debate at all. The team’s study has found the available mix of biomass waste from plantations, run-of-the river hydropower, and geothermal would be more than sufficient to meet the capacity totals of the proposed coal-fired power plant. Not only can this mix of renewables meet demand, but do so while preserving the exceptional economic value and potential of ecotourism on the east coast, as well as locking in energy at a fixed cost at a time when global coal prices are rising, as acknowledged even by Tenaga Nasional Berhad and the Malaysian Government. A suite of solutions makes the most sense, and as a benefit, the diversity of supply helps protect the region from resource or geopolitical shortages.
Mr Lee also makes a number of comparisons to other countries, including “tourists drawing” nations like Australia which use coal to produce power. Local damages due to usage of coal to generate electricity are always there, and can be kept to a minimum only if very high quality monitoring is done, and in a consistent manner. We are not convinced of this following our communication with a group in Perak that has shared with us how the Manjung plant, which TNB repeatedly refers to as the model for Sabah, has led to environmental problems mainly among fishermen.
And while Mr Lee argues that others are using coal and therefore we should too, since it won’t make a difference when emissions fill the air, we would like to state that global impacts of generating electricity from coal cannot be resolved, but that we in Sabah can become an example to the rest of the world on doing things right. The notion that there is nothing to stop the export of carbon dioxide from coal plants in Indonesia, is also flawed and misleading. Our neighbour has just committed to going green, and is now investing in the protection of Kalimantan, and a shift to the use of geothermal energy. So, yes, if Indonesia can do it, why not Sabah?
We do, however, thank Mr Lee on highlighting the problem of run-off from plantations, which could have an impact on corals and fish off Dent Peninsula. Building a coal plant will not resolve this problem. What we need is strong commitment on the part of the Malaysian Government to find use for biomass waste so that it does not go into rivers and the bay. This is no longer an option. It would be best to convert this waste into fuel for a biomass power plant, and one that has no net carbon dioxide emissions because the same amount of biomass that is used will be re-grown on plantations, leaving it in a “steady state.” The biomass scheme will actually protect rivers and waters around the Dent Peninsula. Coal will not.
Some nations mentioned by the writer are not signatories of the Kyoto protocol, while Malaysia is, showing that we have already taken some positive steps, the latest being the pledge to cut carbon intensity by 40 per cent in 2020 compared to 2005 levels. We are not going to be able to meet our promises to the world if a coal plant is built in Sabah.
Some of the countries mentioned have abundant coal reserves, while Sabah only has some deposits at Maliau Basin. Sabah has not had any coal plants, so why start using dirty fuel now? Even the United States has cancelled over 400 proposed coal plants, and the Washington Post recently reported that not a single new coal fired power plant was constructed in the US, two years running. The Washington Post quoted Deutsche Bank global head of assets management, Kevin Parker, as saying "Coal is dead man walking" and that "banks won’t finance them, insurance companies won’t insure them, and the economics to make it clean don't work."
Another assertion made was that green energy facilities pollute the environment as millions of tonnes of iron, copper and coal is needed to manufacture oil and gas, hydro and biomass infrastructure. This is wrong. Studies have shown that the life cycle impact of energy needed to develop renewable energy technologies is trivial compared to their benefits.
Mr Lee’s statement that the DEIA should not have been rejected by authorities over spelling mistakes shows that he has not read the report. It was full of technical inaccuracies and inadequacies, and we believe this is the reason the Federal Department of Environment rejected the study.
There are a number of other allegations made by Mr Lee, some of which do not deserve being addressed, as he may not be aware of key environmental issues and the numerous warning signs and studies done on climate change. It is an indisputable fact that burning fossil fuels such as coal is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
We only care for what happens to our children, and their children. And that is why we have taken this responsibility to speak out against the coal plant, even at risk of becoming unpopular.
Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future)
date published: 1/16/2011