Myanmar is not generating enough power to supply its factories and homes, and the country faces daily hours-long blackouts, but its dictator Min Aung Hlaing is dreaming about electric trains and cars.
The coup leader’s widely derided plans to update a creaking transport network come as military-run media announced this week that reduced capacity at power plants was behind twice daily power cuts–between 7am and 11am, and then between 5pm and 7pm.
Min Aung Hlaing has spoken publicly about his desire to bring electrified transport to Myanmar on numerous occasions since he seized power in a coup last February and plunged the country into turmoil.
“The plan must be implemented to operate electric trains across the nation,” he said during a speech in Naypyitaw in October. “All vehicles must be electric ones in urban areas.”
His comments have been widely ridiculed on Facebook. “Due to power cut, all train schedules across the country are halted now,” one netizen wrote following the October speech.
“The railway tracks are in a bad condition,” a Mandalay local told Myanmar Now. “Only a fool would talk about electric trains under these conditions.”
Myanmar’s power stations usually have a combined capacity of 4,200 megawatts, the junta’s electricity ministry said in a statement published in the Global New Light of Myanmar this week.
But output is currently reduced by 1,470 megawatts because of the shutdown of a natural gas power plant, because the Yadana offshore gas project is under maintenance, and because pylons along the Balu Chaung river in Kayah State have been damaged by explosions, the statement said.
It added that there were planned outages during the hot season to cope with extra demand on the grid.
Factories in Yangon have suffered frequent and random outages recently, and are only able to operate by running generators, which is driving up costs, said a member of the committee that oversees the South Dagon industrial zone.
“There is no set time for power outages,” he said, requesting anonymity. “We have stopped relying on the government power supply and are solving the problem ourselves.”
Energy costs for factories have tripled, he added. “We need to run generators. If we stop operations, both the owners and workers will suffer.”
Factories that cannot afford to run generators are in a dire situation, he added.
Before last February’s coup, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government initiated two natural gas projects to supply 750 megawatts of power to industrial zones in Thilawa and Thaketa, but those plans were scrapped by the company.
The Hong Kong-based VPower Company, which was due to implement the project, has also suspended its projects in Rakhine’s Kyaukphyu and Mandalay’s Myingyan in the wake of the coup.
The Mandalay local said he considered the power outages a form of collective punishment by the junta against a population that has fiercely resisted its rule for almost a year.
People across Myanmar have refused to pay their electricity bills as part of efforts to cut off the junta’s sources of funding, and have been met in many areas with threats and intimidation by soldiers as a result.
Guerrilla groups, meanwhile, have targeted several electricity offices with bomb attacks.