By KHINE KYAW
ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Kyaw Kyaw Win, a small-scale food manufacturer living in Dawei, the capital of the region, said locals were eager to welcome any bid to boost access to electricity by the authorities as long as it could not harm the environment and their livelihoods.
“A large number of SMEs [small and medium enterprises] here are struggling to survive because the rate of electricity tariff is much higher than that of other states and regions in Myanmar,” he said.
To him, residents have to pay between 200 to 1,000 kyats per unit of electricity, depending on the area they live in, which is much higher than 35 kyats per unit in Yangon and many other regions.
“According to the geographical presence, we live very far from the national grid. So, we need to largely depend on IPPs [independent power producers],” he said. “Some parts of Dawei District have access to public facilities run by natural gas. If so, electricity can be accessed at 200 kyats per unit. But in some remote areas in other two districts_ Myeik and Kawthaung, people have to pay as much as 1,000 kyats per unit.”
Tun Wanna, superintendent engineer at Tanintharyi Region Electricity Supply Enterprise, said the region should make good use of its abundant of water resources to improve access to electricity. He recommends implementation of small- and medium-scale hydropower plants even though he shares the same view as many locals, opposing any plan for mega hydropower projects across the region.
He expects the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), a nationwide study on Myanmar’s hydropower potential funded by International Finance Corporation and Australian Aid, to help improve electricity access in Tanintharyi region.
Hla Maung Thein, director general of the Environmental Conservation Department, said the study would ensure that hydropower is developed sustainably based on the integration of water, land and ecosystem planning in order to balance natural resource uses and priorities.
“Stakeholder engagement has been an essential part of the SEA. The study balances stakeholder inputs with scientific knowledge including GIS mapping of Myanmar’s river basins,” he said.
Mi Mi Khaing, director general at the Department of Electric Power Planning, said the study played a key role in government officials’ capacity building on how to better manage risks. “Officials engaged in the process had the opportunity to acquire a range of perspectives on hydropower development. It also equipped them with an in-depth knowledge of the assessment process,” she said.
Myint Maung, Tanintharyi Region Government Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said responsible investors would be warmly welcomed. He urged foreign investors to do business in the region with “full of opportunities”, as Myanmar Investment Commission recently allowed the regional authorities to directly approve small-scale investments in a wide range of sectors including power generation.
“We mainly focus on two things_ improving road connectivity and expanding access to electricity. Now transportation infrastructure has improved a lot over the past two years. But we are still facing problems in expansion of electricity access in the region as a whole,” he said. According to the minister, it is really important to take investment opportunities into serious consideration.
“For the region to develop further, we should implement some development projects including small and mid-scale hydropower plants. But we need to make efforts to minimise environmental and social impacts,” he said. He added the regional government had instructed companies to do business in an ethical and transparent way without harming the environment and natural resources.
Kyaw Kyaw Naing, a member of Myeik District Electricity Advisory Committee, urged to focus on renewable energy, particularly encouraging investments in solar and wind energy by using advanced technology.
Yet, the minister upholds his belief that hydropower is the best solution to supply the rising electricity demand.
“We, Tanintharyi residents, are eager to develop further. So, we need more electricity. We urgently need to decide whether we should focus on development first or worry too much about potential impacts, even before we start anything,” he said.