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Monday, October 6, 2008

No to Coal Power Plant

Source : and please give us your support by signing the petition.

An open letter from Sandakan.

From KL to Sandakan on Air-Asia is a fast 2 plus hours and one is ready to enjoy friendly hospitality, fresh-seafood and the embrace of mother nature. On our MAS, Malaysia's National Carrier it takes a bit longer - 2 hops and almost a day. Besides seafood, Sandakan is also well known to Westerners as the sanctuary for Oran Utan, Proboscis monkeys and endangered Turtles (on Turtle Island). To Australians, Sandakan is known for her War Memorial dedicated to our Aussie heroes marched to their death in WW2. To be fair, Sandakan was also captured in a less known Japanese "B" movie of the same name. She is also home to the famous American writer Agnes Keith who once lived here with her family and was inspired to write of her experiences about the Land under the wind. Her house now stands as a tourist attraction show-casing how the whites lived in paradise as it was then (after the Government spend millions fixing the old home at the hill top). Even books were written about the non-white inhabitants - The Towkays of Sabah - better known for clan rivalry to exploiting timber trade. Setting aside its historical moments, Sandakan always stood as a refuge for us who have made it our home since grandpa's time, all stood proud when she was crowned with the Title - Nature City, a first in Malaysia.

In early 2008, Sandakan woke up to the prospect of hosting a 300 MW Coal powered plant at her door-steps, courtesy of the Government and the Sabah Electricity S/B (subsidiary of Tenaga Bhd).This Coal powered plant was earlier rejected by Lahad Datu (a nearby town) because it might endanger or damage Meliau Basin and its prehistoric flora/fauna. If the Government have their way with Sabah Electricity, they will put a 300 MW Coal powered plant in Sandakan and more specifically (though unconfirmed) in the Palm Oil Industrial Cluster (POIC) which is situated a stone throw from two housing estates (towards north) and to the forest reserves for Oran Utan (towards west). Sandakan town sits a close 14 km to the east.

A group of businessmen (from Chinese Chambers of Commerce) have been tirelessly opposing this and have gathered over 30,000 signatures from the locals. To be fair, they have even toured other Coal powered plants in Malaysia and they are firm on rejecting the Coal powered plant which speaks volume considering their street smart dealings in spotting opportunities and characters. However more importantly, the health reason is well known due to its inherent danger of micro-particles which are trappable in the lungs of the vulnerable young and old.

Interestingly this throws up TWO questions which are why COAL and WHY in Sandakan? What did Sandakan do or did not do to deserve this ? No responses from the relevant authorities to date to answer the call for Coal or Sandakan or both. In fact the only response from them (Sabah Electricity S/B) is a rhetorical reply asking the public to present other viable alternatives to their liking if this Coal powered plant is to be questioned. Great, this already tells volume of the EIA report which by the way is not even ready. For the uninitiated, Coal powered plants are well studied and well known to be the least favorable option of all the alternatives even with the soaring costs of other alternatives. For example SierrraClub provides a link to show how bad it is and that is only the surface. With information at our finger tips, our leaders must think we are slow or unassuming and we so easily cowed by their irresponsiveness, as a sign of their strength or ignorance ?

Be that as it may, Sabah (the State) in fact has voluminous off shore gas (if they had not already pre-sold to the Japanese by Petronas- since no one is saying) and this should be considered the better alternative requires little mental effort. In fact, a combination of gas, biodiesel, solar (being in the tropics) and biomass should be considered given Sandakan is the uncrown palm oil capital of Malaysia. Anyone with some common sense could see Coal is not the answer to problematic electricity problem. In fact, this was the first excuse the Sabah Electricity S/B gave to pacify the population. It is no secret that the main issue with blackouts in Sandakan has to do with maintenance and the lack of it, as stated by a former Minister who was also a former employee. It is often that after a heavy downpour the electricity goes out because some trees fell and tripped the lines. There are unconfirmed rumors that equipment used in the current power plant are reconditioned from other states which may partially explain its dire state. After all, Sandakan is still the record holder with the most blackouts in Malaysia but we don't really mind given the alternative. Dinner by candle lights ? Blackouts give more quality time with family watching fireflies instead of TV or playing computer games. Some tourists that I know were delighted because they had not experienced a blackout before. Fancy that.

Why Sandakan ? Most cities in Sabah are connected by a national power grid which means one can have the Coal powered plant plugged anywhere on the grid. Logically, this could be at a site of most opportune (read cheap) and logistically convenient. I assume the Coal powered plant will be located at the POIC but to be fair no official announcement on this has been made to date. The POIC is a 1000 acs development to enhance the Palm Oil Industry. The proponent has a website here and is offering RM 12 (US 3.64) per square feet. A typical Coal powered plant will take up at least 300 acs of land with a further 100 acs for its waste (ash). But who are the real proponents of the POIC ? In fact, the entire POIC was acquired through the infamous Land Acquisitions Ordinance of Sabah and some of the former owners are already complaining in Court. So who else have so much power in this State besides the Chief Minister ? Well, that will be the Yang Di-Pertua Negeri or Governor but the Constitution of Sabahonly allows him to act on advice (but whose advice?). With a stroke of a pen he declared over 100 landowners' land to be acquired for POIC under "public purposes". Those with financial backing will contest else will have to accept whatever compensation by the State (however distasteful) which may come only at the State's convenience (read - years from now).

Finally, the Local Council (in Malaysia local councilors are unelected and positioned by their political masters) is trying to rezone the entire area designated for POIC from preservation of hilltop to special industrial (an unknown term), a process which actually requires public participation-feedback from the displaced landowners under the Town and Country Planning Ordinance. So far no notice was published in the newspaper or gazetted for this rezoning. I was informed that this was not required as its rezoning is by an 'amendment' to a previous Sandakan Draft Plan 2003. Sounds a bit controversial to me. For some understanding of Sabah law goto

So at the end of the day or night wherever you may be, I hope you will put in a word or two for us in opposing this monstrosity and be disgusted in the manner how this was forced upon us, not forgetting how this will definitely and positively add more carbon dioxide to the environment, affecting our climate (yes yours too) and probably causing us to be homeless due to rising sea-levels. Yes, we will miss our seafood or blackouts but we do not have any choices as mere citizenry. But you have choices, please write to the Prime Minister of Malaysia (if he is willing to listen), and complaint about the Chief Minister of Sabah and the proponent ( or vote on this

Do give a thought for our environment. It is yours too (when you come visit).

From Chris Kwan
Hope,Faith & Charity
3 Oct 2008