Major coal-fired power project near Ho Chi Minh City sparks pollution concerns

By VnExpress   March 14, 2017 | 12:39 pm GMT+7
Major coal-fired power project near Ho Chi Minh City sparks pollution concerns
Containers transporting coal sit at the dock before being loaded onto a Chinese ship at a port of the Cua Ong Coal Preparation company in Cam Pha town, Vietnam. Photo by Reuters

The planned location is too close to Ho Chi Minh City, threatening air and water pollution to home of about 13 million people.

A project to build a $5-billion coal-fired power plant just outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's largest, has raised concerns over environmental impact.

Vietnam has been under pressure to raise its power generation capacity to meet an economic expansion above 5 percent in recent years, while the Southeast Asian nation still relies heavily on coal-fired power plants, a factor criticized by environmentalists due to air pollution and its serious impact on human health.

The government is planning to build a thermal power complex comprising the 2,800-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Long An Province, the southwestern neighbor of Ho Chi Minh City, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade has sought opinions on two sites for construction, the Saigon Times reported.

The plant project is part of Vietnam’s broader efforts to meet energy demand, which grew more than 20 percent per year throughout the 1990s, and 15 percent on average in the 2000s based on a World Bank report last month.

Designed to use coal imported from Indonesia and Australia, the plant should be near a port which is capable of accommodating tankers of up to 50,000 dead-weight tons, the newspaper cited the transport ministry as saying.

But the proposed location in close proximity to Ho Chi Minh City, home to about 13 million people, will threaten the environment with air and water pollution, said the city government, which has plans to develop a new urban area of 1,354 hectares (3,300 acres) adjacent to Long An Province.

Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel and the leading source of carbon-dioxide emissions.

The country’s emissions of carbon dioxide will rise as more coal-fired power plants are under construction. Coal plants are forecast to emit three times more ash by 2030, according to Hanoi-based sustainability advocate organization GreenID.

Air pollution from Vietnamese coal-fired power plants killed 4,300 people in 2011, Vietnam News cited a Harvard University study as saying. Air pollution has attracted more public attention in the past few years as heavy smog envelops swathes of the nation including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

The level of PM2.5, the small particles that pose the greatest risk to human health, averaged 50.5 micrograms per cubic meter last year in Hanoi, double the national standard and five times higher than WHO standards, based on a Green ID report.

Compared to Hanoi, the pollution problem in Ho Chi Minh City was less severe. Last year, the southern metropolis only experienced 14 polluted days by national standards and 175 days by WHO standards.

Green ID said both cities were swamped in exhaust fumes emitted by a huge number of vehicles, industrial zones, construction sites, thermal power plants, waste incineration, household cooking and trans-boundary pollution.

Broader trend

Vietnam plans to cut electricity generation by coal-fired thermal power plants to 53.2 percent of the total electricity generation by 2030, from 56.4 percent now, in a bid to slash the concentration of pollutants.

The country is also turning to renewable energy, particularly solar and wind energy, with a target of 10.7 percent of the total electricity generation by 2030 coming from renewables compared to just 3.7 percent in 2013.

But Vietnam still has a long way to go to ease its reliance on fossil fuels for power generation. 

Formally a net coal exporter, it had recently turned into a net importer of the fossil and bought in 13.3 million tons last year, a 92.4 percent surge from 2015, customs data showed.

The industry and trade ministry has projected coal import to soar to 35 million tons a year by 2020 and 80 million tons by 2025.