Editorial, The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 21, 2009 ) – It is not a good time to be occupying the upper strata of the management of PNG Power Ltd.

The wholly-owned Government entity is getting hit everywhere because of its lack of capacity to supply reliable electricity.

The industrial township of Lae has experienced such intermittent power outages that Morobe Governor Luther Wenge has threatened legal action against the company.

In the Eastern Highlands capital, Goroka, Justice Mark Sevua has actually served notice on the provincial PNG Power management there that another case of power outage resulting in an interrupted court case will see the manager being charged with contempt and placed behind bars.

As if this is not enough, PNG Power has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an Indonesian company to enter into coal-powered electricity generation in Madang, another town which suffers intermittent power failures.

Two letters in yesterday’s The National from Dr Jacob Kisomb and one Ignatius Papenga put the matter very succinctly.

Both raise the valid point that the PNG Power proposal is a slap in the face of Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s leadership in the global climate change cause through the Coalition of Rainforest Nations.

Sir Michael became an instant celebrity on the international climate change issue when he championed the cause of rainforest nations at the Bali conference on global warming in September last year.

That the coal power generation proposal comes from an Indonesian company and that PNG Power Ltd actually answers to Sir Michael’s son, Public Enterprise Minister Arthur Somare, are factors which the management hardly seems to have taken into account.

As Dr Kisomb and Mr Papenga point out, the pollution from coal-powered electricity generation will be greater and far more expensive to maintain or clean up.

Coal-powered electricity is largely seen today as an archaic, outmoded, dirty and vastly expensive energy source. Carbon is seen largely as being responsible for much of the industrial carbon emission problems in the world today.

In almost all the countries where coal-fired power generation is done, there are moves towards alternate and cleaner sources of energy. Where the practice is continued, huge sums of money are being allocated to clean up coal power generation.

Part of the carbon credit trading system is devised so that companies that use up coal power can buy carbon credits and also add credits if they can prove that they are spending money on moving towards cleaner energy sources.

It seems the height of irresponsibility and certainly a backward move for PNG Power Ltd to introduce coal-powered electricity in a country where hydro power generation – a far cleaner substitute – has been ably demonstrated, where there is ample supply of natural gas as a source of power generation and that too has been ably demonstrated, and where sitting as it does in the tropics and on the ring of fire, solar power and thermal power can be harnessed to provide clean alternate sources of energy.

Hydro power at Yonki has supplied electricity to all five Highlands provinces and Morobe and Madang provinces.

That the electricity supply to these areas is now unreliable seems to us to have less to do with hydro power generation and more to do with routine maintenance, or lack of it. Good planning and management would have prepared contingency plans for what to do when the Yonki Dam is silted up and closed for routine maintenance work.

Gas-powered electricity from Hides Gas has provided the power needs of the giant Porgera gold mine and Paiam township for decades now without interruption. That demonstrates that gas is a reliable, cheap and readily available source of power.

The Southern Highlands provincial government has already entered into talks with the Independent Public Business Corporation to power up the province from excess gas from the PNG LNG project. Why does PNG Power Ltd not get involved here along with PNG Sustainable Energy?

Surely there is enough gas to supply sufficient power from the Southern Highlands to the entire Highlands region, Madang, Morobe and maybe the Gulf and Central provinces. It could use the existing Highlands and Morobe and Madang power lines and towers so the costs would be lesser.

The MoU ought to be scrapped and discussions closed on the subject.

The National:


  1. It does seem like a ‘no brainer’ when PNG is contemplating future coal fired power generation and at the same time, about to become a significant Liquified Natural Gas exporter.

  2. Green power!

    Some four years ago an alternative energy consultant came to UPNG and drew up a plan for wind-based power for the Uni’s needs. There are plenty of hills around with a constant flow of suitable wind. You need to store the energy somehow to provide constant power when the wind drops. He had the brilliant idea of building a smallish dam up in a valley behind Gerehu. The electricity from the wind turbines would be used to pump groundwater up the hill into the dam. Then the water would be released under control to generate hydro-power. The dam acts as a giant energy battery recharged by the wind turbines.

    Don’t think anything came of it.

    Also there was a scheme to generate power for Buka/Bougainville from the massive tidal surges that flow through the Buka channel twice a day at around 5 – 6 knots. If you’ve ever swum there you will realise how much power there is in the sea. The drop-off over the coral shelf at Buka is amazing (and frightening). I snorkeled there a few times and thought I was in heaven and hell at the same time! If you stray just a few meters out from the shelf and you would be washed away to the Solomons!

  3. An interesting article.
    I must correct the author and stress that coal is not an expensive form of making electricity, it is actually one of the cheapest and also most reliable.
    In PNG I agree Geothermal and Gas are the way to go. Gas is a viable and clean burning alternative. Hydro is great with no pollution however you have to dam hundreds of square km of pristine wilderness to make the dam, and so there is a massive impact on the environment when going to hydro power.

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