Hai Duong locals up in arms over new JAKS power plant

December 24, 2020 | 10:00
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Amid accusations from local people of dust invasions, environmental pollution, and signs of natural resource exploitation, the Hai Duong coal-fired thermal plant from Malaysian group JAKS could face penalties if the result of an environmental monitoring investigation falls on the side of at-risk locals.
1523 p11 hai duong locals up in arms over new jaks power plant
Testing activities at the Hai Duong thermal power plant have ramped up concerns for people nearby, who may have to be relocated entirely

After the long-delayed 1,200MW Hai Duong thermal power plant, funded by Malaysia’s JAKS Resources Bhd, set a trial run for its second unit and received confirmation from Vietnamese authorities that the first unit could commence operations on November 24, a series of troubles immediately flared up revolving around its negative environmental effects.

In Quang Thanh commune of the northern province of Hai Duong’s Kinh Mon town last week, all doors and windows of every house seemed to be closed as tightly as possible, and not many people could be seen roaming the streets. Sitting in a small shop in Lau Dong village, only around 100 metres from the coal-fired thermal plant, the shopowner pointed out to VIR the thick dust covering nearby trees.

Luong Van Dai, the 80-year-old owner, insisted that he had never before seen such thick dust covering not only the trees but the houses and roads too, as well as any person who dared to venture outside. “The dust felt like a swarm of mosquitoes rushing into us as soon as the plant’s machinery started running,” said Dai.

In nearby alleyways, houses in Lau Dong village previously used to soaking up sunlight could be seen covered in dust across corrugated iron roofs and tarpaulins. “The amount of dust has to be seen to be believed,” Dai sighed.

Meanwhile neighbour Nguyen Van Co said that every morning he sweeps the yard and collects a full shovel of dust. “In addition to that, when the plant runs (usually at midnight), we are awoken by the heavy noise of the machinery, as well as noxious smells rushing into our homes,” he claimed, while expressing his helplessness with the plight.

The power plant comprises two 600MW coal-fired thermal units with a project cost of $1.87 billion. JAKS initially obtained the concession and subsequently formed a joint venture with China Power Engineering Consulting Group Co., Ltd. (CPECC) to build and operate the power plant, in which JAKS holds 30 per cent equity interest, and CPECC holding the remainder. The plant is currently expected to generate commercial electricity at the end of this month.

However, along with producing electricity for facilities and houses in the area, the thermal power plant is causing nightmares for those living next to the plant thanks to the machinery. “The trial run of the first set of machinery drowned us out in noise and dust. We don’t know how to survive if both sets become operational,” explained Luong Van Chien, head of Lau Dong village of Quang Thanh commune.

Environmental failures

This is not the first time local residents have cried foul over environmental concerns including dust and noise since JAKS tested the first unit, and as yet the problem has not been fixed. Previously, in a petition dated November 11, local residents reflected that the build-operate-transfer project over the four previous consecutive nights discharged dust and a highly-smoky smell that prevented them from getting sleep and thus affected their health, especially of concern for children and the elderly.

Households also noted their concern about crops being covered by smog when the plant released slag waste matter.

The following week, the People’s Committee of Le Ninh commune in Kinh Mon town received feedback from local residents regarding November 17 and 18, in which the plant continued to discharge slag at night and affected local residents with continuing heavy dust, noise, and smell.

Meanwhile, VIR accessed a document dated November reporting that “from the end of September up to now, the plant has carried out discharging activities. The state-built road, which is used to load slag to the disposal site, is full of unpleasant smells and causing dust on crops, affecting the daily lives of locals.”

The document also pointed out that the drainage system of the site leads directly into the irrigation system of households in Tien Xa village. “The slag disposal site must have a separate drainage system that does not directly discharge wastewater from the site into the system used for irrigation and production for the local people,” the document noted.

About 100 households directly affected by dust around the power plant are now looking into possible relocation through official channels, in order to avoid further damage to their livelihoods.

Natural resource exploitation

During construction of the Hai Duong thermal power plant, there had been local reports of violations in digging and transporting soil to other locations without permission from the provincial People’s Committee. Le Ninh People’s Committee in September sent documents to the authorities to inspect and clarify potential deforestation and hill land exploitation in the area.

“Through physical inspection, it can be seen that a part of the hilly garden land area has been lowered in altitude by the contractor and hilly soil removed from the slag dumping site,” the documents noted.

Under August’s Decision No.2277/QD-UBND of Hai Duong People’s Committee on the change of land use purpose to JAKS to lease, the rental area in Le Ninh commune is 15.7 hectares, of which 8.68ha of forest land was assigned to households to take care of in 1998. Last year, Kinh Mon Compensation and Clearance Council paid compensation for trees and assets on forest land to households, but the lease handover has not yet been completed.

Le Ninh People’s Committee has since coordinated with Kinh Mon Forest Management Board to check the forest area, and showed that “there is a phenomenon of trees being cut down and hilly land exploited.”

Field inspections have noted that there are large trucks often in the vicinity – however, the inspection has encountered many difficulties, with possible violations unable to be filed because owners of the vehicles have failed to cooperate.

Land exploitation and transportation in the slag disposal area of the thermal power plant has been going on for over a year. “However, due to our limited authority, we cannot check – only report to a higher level,” insisted Tran Trung Kien, Chairman of Le Ninh’s Commune Committee.

Regarding land exploitation activities in the area of the plant, Lau Dong village head Chien confirmed, “The activities of exploiting and transporting land have not been licensed by Hai Duong People’s Committee to fully utilise the minerals in the project.”

VIR continues to reach out for more information on the matter.

The Hai Duong thermal power is the first foray of JAKS Resources Bhd into Vietnam. Under the power purchase agreement, the joint venture company, JAKS Hai Duong, will be guaranteed with fixed capacity payments by the Vietnamese government and will be backed by energy payments to cover fuel and variable operating costs, and therefore contributing to a sustainable income contribution during its 25-year tenure.

The recurring income from JAKS Hai Duong bodes well for JAKS as it will help to hedge its earnings against foreign currency fluctuations when the group widens its operational footprint in Southeast Asia where potential income will be based on different currencies, according to JAKS’ website.

By Phuong Thu and Nguyen Huong

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