Coal Plant Plans On Hold in Malaysia
Sep 11, 2010

In Sabah, Malaysia, the country’s Department of Environment (DoE), has halted plans to build a coal-fired power plant, rejecting the detailed environmental impact assessment (EIA) necessary for construction to proceed. According to Sabah Environment Protection Department Director, Yabi Yangkat, the submitted assessment failed to address important environmental parameters. Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future), a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), led the fight against the plant’s approval and encouraged individuals to participate in the coal plant protest via letters to the DoE.

If constructed, the proposed 300-megawatt plant would face Malaysia’s Coral Triangle, a vulnerable and uniquely biodiverse marine setting for 75% of the world’s known coral species. In addition to the reef, the plant would also displace villagers and disturb nearby rainforests and critical habitat, home to endangered species including orangutans and Bornean rhinos. A coal plant in this region would also negatively affect the country’s significant tourism industry.

A study published in March 2010 from the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, and commissioned by Green SURF, analyzed the resource availability and cost of clean energy options in Sabah. A June 2010 report from the University Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) investigated Sabah as a case study on balance between energy demands and environmental significance. Although energy requirements will continue to increase as Malaysia’s economy grows, these studies found that fossil fuel alternatives, such as the use of biomass, hydro, geothermal, or solar energy, are both feasible and cost-effective.

Malaysians are rightfully skeptical of controversial energy projects. Construction on the Bakun Dam in the country’s Sarawak region, still underway, has resulted in the destruction of 230 square km of rainforest and has displaced more than 9,000 indigenous residents. Additionally, coal-fired power plants would go directly against the government’s recent environmental pledges. In 2004, Malaysia signed an agreement with Indonesia and the Philippines to protect the Coral Triangle’s Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME). In May 2009, the Prime Minister joined leaders from Indonesia, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and East Timor to sign the Coral Triangle Declaration for marine resource protection. And in Copenhagen, December 2009, Malaysia’s Prime Minister pledged to reduce carbon emissions 40% by 2020, subject to support from developed countries. The construction of new coal-fired plants will make this a difficult promise to keep and will also hinder backing from nations looking to invest in green economies.

The company responsible for the plant’s construction, Lahad Datu Energy Sdn Bhd (LDE), must now decide if it wants to stir additional controversy or scrap the project. Plant proponents could appeal the DEIA rejection and submit a revised assessment. However, in the face of intense criticism and the government’s public environmental commitments, a coal-fired plant must be a final resort for energy needs in this eco-rich region. Stopping the proposed coal plant is an opportunity for the Malaysain DoE to substantiate environmental claims and prove its dedication to green energy alternatives. Preventing coal plant construction in Sabah is a step in this right direction.

In Sabah, Malaysia, the country’s Department of Environment (DoE), has halted plans to build a coal-fired power plant, rejecting the detailed environmental impact assessment (EIA) necessary for construction to proceed. According to Sabah Environment Protection Department Director, Yabi Yangkat, the submitted assessment failed to address important environmental parameters. Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future), a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), led the fight against the plant’s approval and encouraged individuals to participate in the coal plant protest via letters to the DoE.

If constructed, the proposed 300-megawatt plant would face Malaysia’s Coral Triangle, a vulnerable and uniquely biodiverse marine setting for 75% of the world’s known coral species. In addition to the reef, the plant would also displace villagers and disturb nearby rainforests and critical habitat, home to endangered species including orangutans and Bornean rhinos. A coal plant in this region would also negatively affect the country’s significant tourism industry.

A study published in March 2010 from the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, and commissioned by Green SURF, analyzed the resource availability and cost of clean energy options in Sabah. A June 2010 report from the University Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) investigated Sabah as a case study on balance between energy demands and environmental significance. Although energy requirements will continue to increase as Malaysia’s economy grows, these studies found that fossil fuel alternatives, such as the use of biomass, hydro, geothermal, or solar energy, are both feasible and cost-effective.

Malaysians are rightfully skeptical of controversial energy projects. Construction on the Bakun Dam in the country’s Sarawak region, still underway, has resulted in the destruction of 230 square km of rainforest and has displaced more than 9,000 indigenous residents. Additionally, coal-fired power plants would go directly against the government’s recent environmental pledges. In 2004, Malaysia signed an agreement with Indonesia and the Philippines to protect the Coral Triangle’s Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME). In May 2009, the Prime Minister joined leaders from Indonesia, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and East Timor to sign the Coral Triangle Declaration for marine resource protection. And in Copenhagen, December 2009, Malaysia’s Prime Minister pledged to reduce carbon emissions 40% by 2020, subject to support from developed countries. The construction of new coal-fired plants will make this a difficult promise to keep and will also hinder backing from nations looking to invest in green economies.

The company responsible for the plant’s construction, Lahad Datu Energy Sdn Bhd (LDE), must now decide if it wants to stir additional controversy or scrap the project. Plant proponents could appeal the DEIA rejection and submit a revised assessment. However, in the face of intense criticism and the government’s public environmental commitments, a coal-fired plant must be a final resort for energy needs in this eco-rich region. Stopping the proposed coal plant is an opportunity for the Malaysain DoE to substantiate environmental claims and prove its dedication to green energy alternatives. Preventing coal plant construction in Sabah is a step in this right direction.

Sources: http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2010/6/4/nation/6... http://malaysiandigest.com/features/42-personality/4706-plan... http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2010/8/21/bus...

Relevant article links: http://www.accessinitiative.org/blog/2010/03/india-villagers... http://www.accessinitiative.org/blog/2009/03/lessons-a-community’s-struggle-with-coal-thailand

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