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Monday February 23, 2009

Coal-fired power plant too close to popular beach spots

IT does not take an environmental expert to point out that a coal-fired power plant should not be at the proximity of marine ecosystem.

But the threat looming over the Bagan Lalang beach in Sepang, Selangor, is real and one, which the StarMetro discovered traverses state boundaries.

The Jimah 1,400MW coal-fired power plant is at the border between Selangor and Negri Sembilan, in Port Dickson (PD) to be exact, which is a popular beach holiday spot.

Jimah is an independent power producer (IPP) set to fire up in July. The plant is owned by Jimah Energy Ventures Sdn Bhd (JEV) with 80% share and Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) owning 20%.

JEV and TNB have drawn up a Power Purchase Agreement for 25 years.

On a national scale, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) is riled as it has been actively monitoring the Bagan Lalang coastline and its interior rich with mangrove swamps and a forest reserve.

“Ships transporting coal to the power plant will disturb the marine ecosystems and cause the fish population to dwindle,” said MNS environmental education department head I. S Shanmugaraj.

At present, efforts are being undertaken to promote the eco-tourism potential of Bagan Lalang.

“The MNS plans to work with locals to promote village life through homestays so it is a shame for tourists to see a power plant with its jetty extending out to the sea,” added Shanmugaraj.

Not needed yet: The power plant is set to operate in July but given the current excess in electricity supply, power will not be needed till 2011 or 2012.

Sungai Pelek assemblyman Yap Ee Wah whose constituency extends to Bagan Lalang said the authorities should study the economic and social impact of projects like the Jimah power plant before giving it the green light.

“We don’t want a situation where the authorities act without getting the bigger picture and get blamed later when something happens,” he advised.

Bagan Lalang Federal Village Development and Security Committee (JKKP) chairman Tasirun Abd Majid said with Jimah’s 10km radius and proximity, fishermen would have limited area to fish.

Besides its eco-tourism potential, Bagan Lalang is hoping to make its mark through the RM3bil Sepang Palm Tree Water Villas project by Sepang Goldcoast Sdn Bhd (SGC), a joint venture company between Permodalan Negeri Selangor Berhad (PNSB) with a 30% stake and Sepang Bay Sdn Bhd.

“The development consists of 22km of shoreline with a majority of foreign property investors so we have our concerns,” said SGC president Ho Hock Seng.

If Bagan Lalang is foreseeing an ecological threat, the scenario is different for PD residents.

Coal produces approximately two times the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) as natural gas and a third more C02 per unit of heat than oil.

Port Dickson Residents Association (PDRA) president Maj (Rtd) Anthony S. Raj said thick smoke was spotted billowing from the plant during a test run recently, alarming residents.

“Strong winds cause carbon deposits from the mountains of coal stored in the storage yard of the plant to settle on houses.

“Imagine the smoke pollution once the plant starts to operate,” he pointed out.

He also said the PDRA was seeking to study the Detailed Environment Impact Assessment (DEIA) report on the plant to better understand the long-term implications.

Port Dickson assemblyman M. Ravi said residents of Lukut and Chuah, whose houses were closest to the coal plant had been voicing their fears over the plant since 2006.

“PD is a famous tourist spot so a coal plant mars our image as a holiday destination. Coupled with the impact to the environment, what is the rationale in having this coal plant?” he asked. For the record, the Tuanku Jaafar power plant is also in Port Dickson.

When contacted, a spokesman for JEV said the matter would be referred to the directors for comment.

In its website www.jimahev.com.my, Jimah stated that it was conscious of its environmental responsibility and that “each unit of the coal fired power plant project was equipped with a Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) plant, Electrostatic Precipitator (ESP) and low NOx burners which will minimise emissions to the permitted level”.

It was also stated that the “DEIA approval was obtained from Department of Environment (DOE) in January 2005.”

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