Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma’s military government is making plans to supply electricity to several cyclone devastated areas in the Irrawaddy delta through the use of bio-energy. According to the plan, electricity will be generated through the conservation of animal and organic wastes and used to supply electricity to local delta residents.
In regards to the program, a ministerial team – led by junta Prime Minister General Thein Sein and including the Ministers of Forestry and Hotels and Tourism, and the Deputy Minister for Education – on Monday visited villages in Irrawaddy Division which were devastated by last May's Cyclone Nargis.
"People in the rural area are eager to get electricity. I think this might be part of their [the generals] canvassing work for the upcoming election,” said an official with a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is assisting with cyclone reconstruction.
“Hardly any cattle could be seen in this area after the cyclone. But they [the generals] said electricity would be generated by producing methane gas from animal waste. More surprising…ministers gave the lectures in person," the official, who attended the generals' lecture in Bogale Township, told Mizzima.
Burma’s state-run newspapers on Wednesday reported on the visit of the generals, stating that meetings were held in Bogale and Pyapon Townships, where explanation was provided as to how electricity can be generated by making use of animal waste.
Similarly, on March 30th, Minister of Industry No. (1), Aung Thaung, visited villages in Taungtha Township in Mandalay Division and explained to local residents on the production of electricity by mixing salt with animal waste and with the assistance of wasted dry cells.
However, environmentalists said unless there is a proper mechanism to handle gas leakage, the production of methane gas could cause pollution and be hazardous to the people if the gas does in fact leak.
Further, they also doubt the sustainability of gas usage in the villages, as there isn't a sufficient supply of raw material for gas production.
An environmentalist in Burma, speaking on condition of anonymity, said producing electricity from animal waste would require a sufficient supply of raw materials along with cooperation and awareness among the local population, without which gas leakage could cause pollution.
According to the environmentalist, gas leakages would produce carbon dioxide and could lead to health problems related to the heart as well as nervous and respiratory systems.
He further said the production cost of storing methane gas for a village of about 100 households would run to approximately 5 million kyat [US$ 4,800] – in addition to annual maintenance costs. The sunk costs would cover the construction of a concrete tank, an engine and a generator. However, the power produced by this system would barely be enough to light up a single 40 watt bulb per each household.
A survey conducted by 'Japan International Cooperation Agency' (JICA) in association with the regime found that the procurement of a steady electrical supply in rural areas is very problematic, as there are no power grids or transmission lines.
The survey said that out of a total of more than 65,000 villages in Burma, a mere seven percent are connected with transmission lines and a power grid.
JICA provides assistance in Burma in areas of rural development, health and education.
Further, an academic from Burma, who often attends international energy meetings, said the construction of several dams and hydro-electricity projects across the country will not be supplying electricity to the people of Burma, as there is no means of electrical transmission or distribution network.
He said since the regime is selling the country's natural gas and hydro-electric power to neighboring countries, they are turning to bio-energy to try and meet the electricity needs of rural populations.
Despite abundant hydro-electric and natural gas resources in the country, Burma’s new capital of Naypyitaw is the only city benefiting from a regular power supply. Commercial hubs like the former capital city of Rangoon, industrial zones and other major cities continue to only receive electricity in an hourly rotation cycle.
Currently, most residents of Rangoon and Mandalay receive electricity for eight and six hours, respectively, per day.