Sabah Revisits Controversial Coal Plant Project

Plans to build a controversial coal-fired plant in Sabah, Malaysia are being revisited two years after the proposal was defeated by a grassroots movement. The project is now expected to face regional and international opposition.

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The Malaysian government is taking another look at building a hugely controversial coal-fired plant in the Bornean state of Sabah, a proposal that was thrown out in 2011 due to a large-scale grassroots movement. The 300 megawatt coal plant would have been built in Lahad Datu on the edge of a wildlife reserve and the state’s renowned coral reefs. Reportedly, the government is now considering building the same plant only further south in Tawau, which also lies on the coast. 

“We are shocked to hear that the federal government is still considering a coal plant as part of the energy mix for Sabah, this time in Tawau,” Cynthia Ong, the head of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), a local NGO that was apart of a larger coalition that opposed the plant the last time around, dubbed Green SURF. 

Mahdzir Khalid, the Deputy Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water, revealed that the coal plant was on the table again this week as the government works to fix power supply problems in the region. He further blamed NGO leaders for the state’s “power supply problem.” 

However, during the fight over the coal plant Green SURF released an Energy Options Report for the state. 

“We found that energy efficiency, biofuels, hydropower, and geothermal provide immediate advantages for the region over fossil fuels, and that in time both solar and ocean energy could provide even more energy than coal, while building jobs and a clean environment,” the author of the report Daniel Kammen told in 2010. Kammen is the director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California Berkeley. 

At the time, the Green SURF coalition warned that the coal plant could devastate coral reefs and fisheries, threaten rainforests with coal mining, contribute to climate change, spread toxic pollution, and undercut Sabah’s image as a green tourist destination. 

“If the Ministry is bent on proceeding with this project, it can expect another round of opposition, not just locally but regionally and internationally,” Ong noted. 

Aerial view of rainforest in Sabah. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Aerial view of rainforest in Sabah. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler. 

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