Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sabahans - your doomsday is pending

And, Please CONTINUE voting for Barisan Najis, Ok?


Trepidation as Sabah dirty coal-fired power plant D-day looms
Tue, 09 Mar 2010 16:35

KOTA KINABALU: Amidst the scorching Sabah heat, dry rivers and raging wildfires, advocates of a greener, cleaner state face up to the burning likelihood that the government's final solution to the state's perennial electricity shortage could be the kiss of death to their efforts to preserve the environment.

The environment impact assessment (EIA) report of the proposed 300MW coal-fired power plant at Felda Tungku in Lahad Datu, is due to be out this month.

The state government, after initially dithering on approving the controversial plant, has finally succumbed to pressure from federal authorities responsible for the country's energy demands.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman rejected the coal power plant in 2008, but rapidly back-pedalled when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that the controversial plant would be sited at Felda Tungku.

Electricity supply in the state comes directly under the federal government through power supplier Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB), which in turn is controlled by the country's main power supplier, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB).

SESB and TNB have long maintained that coal is the only option as a source of power supply on the east coast.

"Coal is the most economically viable fuel option for the east coast of Sabah, against other alternatives. Abundance supply of coal from nearby Kalimantan… will provide secured supply of coal at competitive price, thus ensuring continuous operation of the plant and optimum cost of supply/tariff," SESB said on its website.

But, the people residing there are unconvinced. They remain opposed because of fears that toxic coal pollutants will affect both their health and the environment.

The fishing communities along the pristine Darvel Bay, where the coal-fired plant will discharge millions of gallons of treated heated water, are fearful for their now abundant catch.

“The people of Lahad Datu and Seguntor had rejected the coal-fired plant and now the majority of Sabahans do not want it as well,” said Melanie Chia Ket Sui, an opposition politician, during a futile bid for an emergency motion to enable the State Legislative Assembly to debate the issue.

Unsubstantiated claims

The state government said Chia's claims were unsubstantiated.

Tungku assemblyman Suhaili Said (BN) has said that as far as he knew, his constituents had no issues with the plant being located in their area.

Credence to Chia's assertion, however, is supported by the fact that the proposed power plant has been relocated twice, from Silam in Lahad Datu initially and then from Seguntor in Sandakan before being fixed at Tungku after protests by residents.

Most are aware that coal burning is one of the main causes of acid rain, which damages buildings and can be detrimental to aquatic and plant life.

Environmental groups fighting for transparency on the issue are still smarting from anger after their proposals for alternate “clean” energy sources were repeatedly slapped down by the government.

They have already written off the pending report as a whitewash.

"They (the government) have already indicated that it will go ahead no matter what we say," the president of the Sabah Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), Wong Tack, said recently.

"They have no respect for the wishes of Sabahans. They will build the plant and it will be a disaster for the east coast.

"The government promised a second review of the terms and conditions of the EIA, but where is it? It is still the same.

"Last month, the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) people met (TNB) chairman (Tan Sri) Leo Moggie and he admitted to them that it (the proposed plant) will destroy the environment, but they would nevertheless go ahead," he said in a recent interview.

"He (Moggie) admitted that the proposed site is in an eco-sensitive area that could possibly affect the environment stretching from Darvel Bay to the pristine Danum Valley.

"They simply do not want to look at any other energy sources. They want coal and they will get it," said Wong.

He warned that Sepa and other environmental groups would not be standing by idly.

"Darvel Bay is a fixed deposit for Sabahans… for our children. We are not going to allow anyone to jeopardise the life of our future generations…"

Many unanswered questions

The anti-coal lobby has few prospects of success other than to threaten to help evict the government at the next election if it goes ahead with the plan.

"We have misgivings. What Sabahans must ask is, why? Why not use the plentiful natural gas we are blessed with or buy from Sarawak? They are willing to sell to us the surplus they have from Bakun. Brunei has grabbed their offer. Why not us?

"It is clean and cheaper in the long term. It also will not damage our environment. All we would have to do is extend the transmission lines to Lawas and the Sarawak grid, said Tawau's Sri Tanjung assemblyman Jimmy Wong.

"Why are they (the government) making excuses and pushing for the coal plant which will take years to build?

"They should consider this for the sake of keeping Sabah green, instead of rushing for coal.

"Every year, the government is getting about RM300 million of the RM1 billion from sales tax of palm oil from the east coast. About 30% comes from the Tawau area. You could say more than RM1 billion has been given by Tawau oil palm planters over the years.

"Yet while we have given the most we are suffering the most… and now they are forcing us to breathe polluted air when they put up this coal plant," he added.

A majority of Tawau's 500,000 population (excluding thousands of illegal immigrants) are against the plant, but are resigned to it after enduring decades of frequent power cuts akin to a third world nation.

Moggie argued that the proposed plant is a prudent choice and a way to diversify electricity generation sources.

"Hydropower is a potential (energy source). But if you develop hydropower, it also raises questions about the environment and inundation of areas. Coal supply compared to oil is more dependable, so in future coal will play an important part in our power generation diversification," Moggie said in an interview in 2006.

He said neither gas nor hydropower is available on the east coast of Sabah and biomass is a marginal way of obtaining power supply.

Therefore, he said, "coal is the most practical fuel source and that’s why we decided on it... it is not just us who is using coal but the world also is using it”.

SESB looked at a number of potential sites and identified a portion of state-owned Yayasan Sabah land where the abandoned Pacific Hardwood complex stood sandwiched by Darvel Bay and Silam Hill as the most logical (choice) in terms of its centralised position for a power plant.

The worry is that the state, while still considered one of the most environmentally friendly places in the world, is leaning towards unfriendly environmental policies that will lead to irreversible long-term damage to its unique eco-system.

For the state's environmentalists, doomsday is pending.

- FMT Staff

No comments: