RANGOON — Rangoon’s electricity authority has promised to distribute 24-hour electricity to residents during the summer season, usually a time of frequent power cuts, but has not extended the offer to factories in the city’s industrial zones.
Burma typically faces a power shortage from March through May, when the country’s main source of electricity, hydropower, is less effective because less water flows to the dams.
In past years the Yangon Electricity Supply Board (YESB) has used a rotation system that allows residents between 6 and 12 hours of electricity daily. The city’s 16 industrial zones, which lack 24-hour electricity even during the rainy season, sees just two to three hours of power daily during the summer. Many factories use their own generators, which drives up operating costs.
This year Rangoon will benefit from more electricity, from natural gas turbines in Hlawgar, Tharketa, Ahlone and Insein townships, according to the YESB vice chairman Maung Maung Latt. He said the turbines would produce about 50 megawatts of electricity daily, while two additional turbines donated from Thailand would produce 100 megawatts daily after they become operational in March or April.
“We can distribute more to residential areas,” he said, adding that other hydropower projects would also boost supply. “But for industrial zones, we will distribute as much as we can, but we are not sure if we can provide 24-hour electricity. Residential areas will be the priority in the summer season.”
He added that the YESB would not distribute electricity to industrial zones during peak hours, between 5 pm and 11 pm.
Myat Thin Aung, chairman of the Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone—which, with over 850 factories is the biggest industrial zone in the city— said that until the government improved the power supply, manufacturing costs would continue to increase and businesses in the country would struggle to compete regionally.
“We always face an electricity shortage in the summer, even beginning in February,” he told The Irrawaddy. “Some days we only have two or three hours of power a day. It’s really a cost for us.”
He said the government had encouraged industrial zones to build independent power plants to help supply electricity, but he estimated that each plant would cost US$50 million.
“We have been thinking about it, but some other industrial zones have already refused because it would be really costly. We asked the government to supply gas for our power plant, but the government could not support us because they are selling gas to China and Thailand,” he said.
Rising electricity prices have also been an issue in Rangoon, following the replacement of analog meters with digital meters. In late October the YESB announced that households consuming more than 101 units of electricity per month would be required to pay 50 kyats ($0.05) per unit, a price increase of about 40 percent. Activists protested and the prices remained the same, at 35 kyats per unit.
“Electricity prices have not increased like we announced, but people do not realize how efficient the digital meters are in reading the electricity that has been used in the month,” said Hla Kyaing, an assistant chief engineer at YESB. “With the analog meters, there were a lot of errors with meter bills, either due to human mistakes or mechanical mistakes, and that’s why the bills are now significantly higher in some areas.”
Last week total national electricity production reached no more than about 1,715 megawatts per day, and Rangoon consumed about 800 megawatts daily. The YESB expects consumption in the city to increase to 1,000 megawatts daily in March.
Nationwide electricity consumption has increased about 15 percent annually in recent years.
The YESB says about 20 percent of the electricity generated is never paid for, either because it is lost due to technical problems with the grid, or because people tweak their meters to downplay consumption.
The Burma government announced last year that it intended to rapidly increase the power supply and reach universal access to electricity by 2030. The World Bank is providing the country with an interest-free $140 million loan to develop a power plant in Mon State that will be included in the government’s electricity supply project.