Subject: East Timor hit over 'dirty' power plants

The Age

East Timor hit over 'dirty' power plants

Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin

April 3, 2009

MORE than 600 non-government organisations have warned that three second-hand, polluting power plants under construction in East Timor may endanger the health and livelihood of the country's 1 million people.

Joining environmental groups that have already attacked the construction of the heavy-oil plants, the Timor Leste NGO Forum accused the Government in Dili of failing to consider other electricity technologies and not obtaining an independent assessment of the environmental impact before approving the $400 million project.

"We fear the project as currently planned undercuts sustainable development, could squander public resources and may endanger people's livelihoods and health," the forum said in a statement yesterday at a government conference in Dili, on behalf of East Timorese organisations and international agencies working in the country.

The relocation of the more than 20-year-old plants from China to East Timor threatens to damage Beijing's image in the country, where it has become one of the biggest foreign donors since independence in 2002.

The Government decided to buy the plants from the Chinese Nuclear Industry 22nd Construction Company without an open tendering process.

They will commit East Timor, which is rich in gas, to importing expensive heavy oil for decades.

Environmental groups warn the plants will create acid rain, water pollution, toxic solid waste, particulate air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The National Toxics Network, the latest environmental group to attack the project, says pollution from heavy-oil plants can spread in soil for kilometres as well as drift through the atmosphere for thousands of kilometres and contaminate other countries.

In a report released this week, the network called on East Timor to immediately stop work on the plants and consider alternative energy sources.

"As developed countries race to de-carbonise their economies in the face of accelerating climate change, Timor-Leste (East Timor) will be committed to decades of energy production with one of the highest carbon footprints," said the Australian-based network, which has a particular focus on children's environmental health.

The East Timorese Government has refused to call a halt to preliminary work on the project despite President Jose Ramos Horta expressing concern about it in Parliament last month.

Mr Ramos Horta said work had not yet started on the project.

But La'o Hamutuk, a non-government organisation in Dili, has released photographs of preliminary work under way at one site at Hera, a few kilometres east of Dili.

China's sale of the plants to East Timor follows controversy over Dili awarding a $35 million contract to a Chinese company to build two armed navy patrol vessels.

The Government did not conduct an open tender process for the vessels and refuses to make public copies of the purchase contract.

Ian Storey, an academic who has closely followed China's role in East Timor, says Beijing has established itself as an important player in Dili's foreign and economic affairs. China has spent tens of millions of dollars building East Timor's Ministry of Foreign Affairs building and presidential palace.

Mr Storey reveals in an article for the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based group, that China plans to build an $8.5 million headquarters for the East Timorese military.

Mr Storey says one of China's primary interests in East Timor is gaining access to oil and gas reserves.

"So far, however, it has made little headway," he said.


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