Green option to ease Sabah power shortage

Sabah government is not opposed to the idea of linking up biomass power plants to ease electricity shortage in the eastern region of the state, if it proves to be commercially viable.

The oil palm industry is proposing a link up some 100 palm oil mills in Sabah to generate power from biomass plants.

"Power generation from biomass is good for the environment but it is not the only solution. We can explore all possibilities to ease power shortage in Sabah," state Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun said.

"We await the feasibility study by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) to assess the power distribution efficiency," he told reporters after officiating at the Biodiversity and Conservation in Plantations 2010 workshop, organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) and the Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP), in Sandakan yesterday. "The study also needs to find out how much investment is needed to link up some 100 palm oil mills in Sabah to generate 'green' electricity from biomass," he added.

According to the MPOB, there are 417 palm oil mills in the country, out of which 121 are in Sabah.

Mills emit greenhouse gas like methane from the retention ponds after oil extraction. Estate owners can trap methane from the mill sludge and reuse discarded empty fruit bunches as a renewable source of clean energy to fuel steam turbines and generate electricity. Biomass and biogas technology are available. Currently, utility giant TNB buys renewable energy at 21sen/KWh from green independent power producers such as biomass plant owners.

Also present at the workshop were MPOC deputy chief executive Dr Kalyana Sundram and ISP vice-chairman Charles Chow.

"Out of these 121 mills, we can identify 30 that are within close range of the power grid. If these 30 mills can generate 10MW each, it will be enough to supply 300MW. Therefore, we feel there is no need for the proposed 300MW coal-fired power plant. The MPOB cess that we pay should come back as technical help to re-engineer our palm oil mills to be efficient power generation plants," Chow said. "We want to adopt a zero-waste policy and this is an opportune time to come up with a comprehensive energy policy for Sabah," he added.

Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd, which is 80 per cent owned by TNB, faces tremendous pressure to step up power supply in the eastern part of the state. Sabah is the only state in the country that has long suffered from frequent power disruption.

Malaysia has a System Average Interruption Duration Index (Saidi) target that tracks the number of minutes consumers experience power failure in the state. Sabah recorded a high rate of 2,870 minutes/consumer annually at the end of last year. Demand for electricity in Sabah is 750 MW, while the state can generate 800MW. However, an additional 20-25 per cent of power supply is needed to ensure reliable supply.

Last week, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin Fah Kui pledged that electricity interruption in Sabah would be considerably reduced to 700 minutes/consumer by the year-end, failing which he would step down from office.

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