Yong: Be very, very cautious on coal power and coal mining. Hands off Maliau Basin at all costs

Kota Kinabalu, Sunday September 23, 2018

Recent news reports that the Sabah government is considering coal as an option to feed the nation’s and Sabah’s energy needs have again revived concerns among Sabahans over the issue of energy and environment.

The ferocious debate in 2009 over the then proposed coal power plant has closed the issue of coal-generated energy for Sabah. Against the push by Tenaga Nasional Berhad, led by its influential chairman Tan Sri Leo Moggie, and pressure from the then Federal Government, Sabah succeeded in cancelling the coal power plant project. In fact, current Sandakan MP,  Stephen Wong Tien Fatt, was one of the activists at the forefront of the 2009 protests against the coal power plant proposal.

The more viable, cheaper and cleaner option of using Sabah’s own natural gas for Sabah’s energy needs valiantly won the day.  Subsequently, Sabah saw investments by Petronas and other oil and gas players, including the Sabah government, to develop our local oil and gas industry.

It does not make sense that our natural gas is piped to the Petronas Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant in Bintulu for export to foreign countries  instead of being used in Sabah, including in the East Coast, via the (now cancelled) Trans-Sabah Gas Pipeline (TSGP).

In respect of coal mining, which Sabah has been asked by the federal government to start in order to export coal to Peninsula Malaysia, actually, this is again another old issue that has been put to rest.

Back in the mid-1990s, including during my 2-year term as Chief Minister (1996-1998), Sabah rejected any idea of coal mining at Maliau Basin which is known to have huge deposits of high quality coal.

Opening up Maliau Basin for coal mining will devastate the world famous pristine region, also known as “The Lost World”. At the time, the powerful federal minister of Primary Industries crudely and publicly challenged the Sabah Government to choose between “Monkey or Gold”, as reported in a reputable local newspaper.

The then Sabah Forestry Department director fervently fought back in defence of “Green Gold” (meaning the natural green forests with its unique ecology,  potential ingredients for medicinal products, eco-tourism and so on) as opposed to “Black gold” (coal).

Further, if Sabah were to mine its coal, then it would only be a matter of time that coal power plants will be forced upon us on the excuse that we should use our coal for our own power generation instead exporting to Peninsula Malaysia.

Datuk Yong Teck Lee

Ex-Chief Minister (28 May 1996 – 27 May 1998)

Author: Johnny Chin