KOTA KINABALU: Opponents of coal-fired power stations have done a great disservice to the economy of Sabah, said Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau.
The state industrial development minister said those who opposed the proposed coal-fired power station in Lahad Datu years ago were now coming to see him to propose a similar power generation project using coal.
He said he had reminded them they had opposed the government before although they are not scientists. Yet, they had argued that “this cannot, that cannot”.
“With improved technology, we should have an open mind and have a look at the coal option.”
Tangau said this in replying to points raised during the debate on the address of Sabah governor Juhar Mahiruddin at the Sabah assembly.
He said Sabah was in a race to solve its expensive power problem, especially since the federal government has announced it will return Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB) to the state government within the next two years.
Tangau said both state and federal governments would be locked in discussions on the issue, including the terms of the takeover.
Most importantly, he said, Sabah must be in a position to regulate electricity and that any investment or infrastructure development must consider the cost of power generation.
“For example, today the cost is 40 sen per kilowatt per hour. But we are selling at 32 sen.
“If SESB is under the state government, we won’t be able to afford it. How can we give a six sen subsidy? The cost will run into billions.”
Tangau said this was why, whatever the source of power generation, be it solar or anything else, the state government would have to be mindful about it being cost effective.
He urged Sabahans to be open to explore available technology, including the use of coal.
“But when we use coal, everybody will jump, saying it will hurt the environment and the government will be bashed from left and right,” he said.
Even buying electricity from Sarawak, he said, was not an option as it will still be expensive at 30 sen per kilowatt per hour.
Environmentalists have been up in arms against a proposed coal-fired power plant ever since the idea was mooted by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad last year.
Chief Minister Shafie Apdal did not dismiss the idea entirely, saying only that the government was considering its options and the coal plant proposal was at the “talking stage”.
Later, in winding up the debate, Shafie said he had asked the state’s attorney-general to review the agreements signed with independent power producers (IPPs) to see whether it was possible to shorten the terms of the agreements or reduce the rates sold to the government.
“This takeover of SESB could mean Sabah is doomed if the current subsidy is not continued once the company is given back to Sabah.
“So, we need the assurance that this subsidy (by the federal government) will remain.
“As for the IPPs, we cannot keep encouraging this practice. Sarawak does not even have one IPP.
“This is our biggest burden because we are so reliant on them for power generation. We need to pay them, whether we use their power or not.
“We need to solve this problem first,” Shafie said.