KOTA KINABALU, Oct 1 — Sabah’s abundant coal reserves and its potential to satisfy local power needs were why the state government could not write off a proposal for coal mining here despite the environmental impact, said Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.
Acknowledging the controversy the proposal was causing among environmentalists, Shafie said coal’s ready availability in the state meant the proposal should be at least studied, possibly for later implementation.
“I was made to understand that our reserves are plenty, one of the biggest in the country. So there’s no doubt that option can be there, if it benefits the state, but of course, we have to be mindful of the environment too,” he said.
Shafie previously welcomed the proposal by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to extract coal from Sabah, and said today it was sometimes necessary to make unpopular decisions if these result in benefits that outweigh the costs in the longer term.
Citing the Bakum Dam in Sarawak, he said this had been fiercely opposed during the proposal and construction stages.
“Now Sarawakians are enjoying the fruits of that power generation. Their power rate is about 16 sen as compared to 40 sen in Sabah. Even they now capable of selling energy to other places including Sabah.
“There were times when the people were objecting to it. But I think there’s also a time when we have to be bold in our decision making, to make sure it benefits the people in the state in the long run,” he said.
Shafie explained that this was why the state should not automatically dismiss proposals that were currently unpalatable.
The CM was roundly criticised for taking up Dr Mahathir’s proposal before.
In Sabah, the topic of coal mining and its use for power generation have been controversial as far back as the 90s, when it had been proposed for the state to mine its resource-rich Maliau Basin, also known as “Lost World”.
Critics contend that capitulating to coal mining would effectively put the state in an untenable position of choosing between preserving its nature and wrecking this for profit, leaving the state with a dilemma that has spanned several administrations owing to relentless objections from the public and rival politicians.
A 300MW coal-fired power plant using coal imported from Indonesia was also scrapped before the 2013 general election owing to public pressure.
The topic resurfaced when Dr Mahathir asserted that the federal government was considering sourcing coal from Sabah following the rejection of nuclear energy as a long-term energy solution for the country.
Coal is considered dirty due to the water pollution caused during its extraction and for the greenhouse emissions released from its use in power generation.