A plan to build a coal-fired power plant on the island of Borneo in Malaysia has been criticised.
Green Surf, a coalition of non government conservation groups, said the coal plant, set to be built near a wildlife reserve in Sabah, would threaten endangered orang-utans, rhinos and elephants, and displace the local villagers.
But energy officials in Malaysia said the project would build a much-needed boost to the country’s electricity supply.
Previous energy projects in the country have divided opinion, and led to mass protests against the government.
Activists have alleged in the past that authorities and companies ignore the rights of the tribal communities and cause environmental damage by cutting down large parts of the jungle.
“They cannot say that the impact is very small and isolated. We really feel we have to stand firm on this no-coal message,” said Green Surf official Cynthia Ong.
Sabah Electricity, the state’s main power supplier, has said the 300MW plant is needed to meet electricity demand, which is expected to increase up to eight percent annually.
The plant has not yet been formally approved by the Malaysian government’s Department of Environment, said Ahmad Faraid Yahya, the director of the project’s main developer, Lahad Datu Energy Sdn. Bhd.
If it is approved, construction could begin by the middle of next year at an estimated cost of 1.7 billion ringgit (£343,000). The plant could then start operating by March 2013.
Faraid pledged that developers would use equipment to reduce harmful emissions and monitor air and water quality regularly. He added the plant would be located in a palm oil plantation so that no wildlife or villagers would be affected.
In Malaysia’s neighbouring Sarawak state in Borneo, conservationists have criticised the construction of various dams that have displaced thousands of indigenous people and triggered land rights disputes.