Malaysia Rejects Power Station in Environmentally Sensitive Area
The Malaysian government rejected the latest bid by a consortium to build a coal-fired power plant on a pristine coast line in Borneo. The proposed power plant had come under fire from a coalition of environmental groups in eastern Sabah state, arguing that the location was too close to environmentally-sensitive areas like the Coral Triangle.
Radio Australia reports (6 September 2010):
In Malaysia, a coalition of environmentalists has scored a rare victory, after the government rejected the latest bid by a consortium to build a coal-fired power plant on a pristine coast line in Borneo.
The proposed power plant in Lahad Datu had come under fire from a coalition of environmental groups in eastern Sabah state, arguing that the location was too close to environmentally-sensitive areas like the Coral Triangle.
Presenter: Luke Hunt
Speakers: Allan Haywood, Australian seaweed farmer and businessman. Wong Tack, President of Sabah’s Environmental Protection Agency and spokesman for the Green Surf Coalition
HUNT: The victory came after a three-year bitter fight between Green Surf, which led the environmental coalition and a consortium that included national electricity provider Tenaga Nasional.
They wanted to construct the 300 megawatt power station near Lahad Datu on the north east coast of Borneo in the state of Sabah — where the plant would have faced one of the world’s most bio-diverse marine environments known as the Coral Triangle.
It spans the seas around East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands and is home to 75 percent of all known coral species.
Australian businessman Allan Haywood was involved in the construction of a scientific seaweed culture farm in Lahad Datu, not far from where the 550 million dollar plant was to be built and he says the Coral Triangle and fish stocks would have been damaged by chlorine thermal discharges.
HAYWOOD: Coal fired power stations are known to be worst type of power station that you can build. They are the dirtiest and the most environmentally damaging. There are options and the simplest option would be to increase the size of gas fired power stations which are environmentally friendly.
HUNT: Green Surf is a coalition of NGOs that emerged out of protests against construction of the plant.
Its spokesman Wong Tack is also President of Sabah’s Environmental Protection Association. He says there is an abundance of alternatives to coal, in particular solar power and bio-mass that can be produced as a derivative from the state’s enormous palm oil industry.
WONG: Just looking at oil palm waste alone we have close to 30 million tons of oil palm waste. And then this is an island with long hours of sun exposure, so we look at the short term is to start a bio mass plant and the long term is the solar energy.
HUNT: Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed at the Copenhagen climate change conference last December to reduce this country’s carbon emission intensity by 40 percent by 2020. Environmentalists say this would be improbable if the country keeps building coal-fired power plants.
The plant also highlighted the differences between the isolated states of Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia and the country’s west where federal politicians are often viewed as overbearing and unwilling to listen to the local population.
As a result, Wong fears that the federal decision not to build the plant was made for political expediency more than environmental concerns as there are expectations an early election will be called for the first half of next year.
WONG: We foresee an election coming soon and I think this is a political sensitive project, the coal fired power plant. So it looks like the rejection of the environmental impact assessment at this moment by the federal department of the environment is a political decision.
HUNT: Following the rejection of the impact assessment report, which claimed it was environmentally safe to proceed with the plant, a new pro-coal group emerged calling itself the People’s Assembly Action Committee.
It says most people around Lahad Datu are in favor of the plant.
The action committee is now appealing the decision and Wong says it remains possible the government could reverse its course after the next election.
If the pro-coal group succeeds then Malaysia’s efforts to meet its international obligations on carbon reduction will be seriously compromised.
Luke Hunt for Radio Australia, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia