Sunday, July 11, 2010


The government's plans for a coal-fired power plant in Sabah has generated widespread concern, not least because of the simple fact that, well, it's coal, stupid.

Of course, the economic arguments that the government has put forward to support the proposal cannot be denied. Sabah does need power, and 300 MW of the stuff is very tempting. And coal is the cheapest power source out there. Plus, the government and the national utility, TNB, would like us to believe that the plant is going to be clean, with neglible carbon emissions.
I'm surprised anyone can keep a straight face and say the words "clean coal". Malaysians must be spared such tripe.

Of course, I don't buy this rubbish that a coal-fired plant can be "clean". That's rubbish. If our dear minister, Peter Chin Fah Kui (who, ironically is Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister. Shame on him), ever held a piece of coal, he'd know that.

Sabah has rivers, sunlight, waves and oil-palm plantations, all of which could produce power in an eco-friendly and economically viable way. One of the most promising methods, burning waste from oil-palm plantations (which is different from using the oil-palm fruit as ethanol, as I'm opposed to), is supported by research from the Asia Biomass Office.

They estimate a ton of EFB can generate about 1,330 kWh of electricity. 6.6 million tonnes of EFB would generate about 8,423GWh. With current price of electricity at about 6 cent/kWh, power generation using 6.6 million ton of EFB will be about 1.72 billion ringgit sales per year.
While I remain opposed to using palm oil ethanol as vehicle fuel (due to the food vs. fuel debate and the ineffectiveness of the ethanol itself), burning plantation waste for electricity is fine in very small, regulated amounts.

Plus, studies by Sabah Environmental Protection Association show that based on the location of the oil palm mills, most are in clusters, small power generating plants of about 10MW plant each could be built in Beluran, Kudat, Semporna, Kunak and so on to supply clean, renewable energy to the east coast.

Solar energy might hold more promise. With solar-thermal scientists now researching new technologies like reflective mirrors of lightweight polymer and not glass, and techniques like molten salt being used to capture heat for nighttime generation, the world is on the cusp of a new solar revolution. The Solana Generating Station in Arizona, scheduled to go online in 2012, will have 3 sq. miles of parabolic mirrors generating 280 MW of power.
A solar thermal power plant. It involves using mirrors to focus sunlight on a receiver where the heat will boil water to get steam for turning a turbine.

It would be a shame if Malaysia, blessed as it is with abundant sunlight (4-5 kilowatt hours of solar radiation hits each square metre of Malaysia every day) fails to capitalise on these technologies. Even Germany, with only 1-2 kilowatt hours of such radiation, has become the world's solar leader, thanks to a system that enable regular homeowners to earn cash by putting solar panels on their roofs and selling the excess power to the grid. Mr. Peter Chin should know these facts, unless he's forgotten his portfolio.

Yet, the fact that the second Terms of Reference report was pushed through by the government despite little amendment to the heavily biased first report shows that the relevant ministry cannot even be trusted to do its' job. To be fair to the environment, and Sabah's people (whose taxes are being directed to air pollution), the government should scrap the whole silly idea.
Mr. Peter Chin is proving inept at doing his job. Which Green Technology Minister supports a coal-fired plant?

I distinctly remember our Prime Minister promising to slash our carbon intensity by 40% at the Copenhagen summit. And what about that much talked about slogan "Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan"?