With support from the Australian government, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has helped launch the first working group for Myanmar’s hydropower sector, following the launch of a successful group in Lao PDR three years ago. IWP&DC spoke with Robert Allen, Hydropower Developers’ Working Group Co-Chair, and Kate Allen, Team Leader, Hydro Advisory in Asia, IFC, to discover how the group has impacted hydro development in Lao PDR, and what they hope to achieve with the new group in Myanmar.
Q: Why was the Lao PDR Hydropower Developers’ Working Group set up and how long has it been running?
Kate Lazarus: We started reaching out to hydropower companies in 2013 and realized that there was interest among developers in the sector for a platform to collectively channel their concerns to the government. The group was founded shortly thereafter by hydropower companies investing in or interested in investing in projects in Lao PDR. Since its establishment in late 2013, the group has worked to shape policy on hydropower development. Its members network and learn from each other’s’ experiences and strengthen their knowledge on environmental and social topics.
Q: What are the working group’s biggest achievements?
Robert Allen: One of our biggest achievements was help the government of Lao PDR review the draft regulation on small hydropower development. This was the first time the government included the private sector in the policy review. Often, policies and regulations are developed in isolation of the private sector, even though it is affected the most. By reviewing and commenting on this particular draft regulation, we were able to provide valuable feedback to the government on feasibility, our concerns, and our experiences with similar regulations in other parts of the world.
This is the first platform for hydropower companies to get involved and mobilize change in the sector. Our quarterly business meetings and seminars have maintained momentum. We have generated interest among stakeholders to work together. When companies come together and work collectively, our stance is stronger.
Kate Lazarus: In August, we established a working group for developers in Myanmar. This is an achievement in itself as it demonstrates interest among hydropower companies to also work together to mobilize change.
Q: How many members does it have, and from which sections of the industry?
Robert Allen: The group in Lao PDR has about 100 members. They include hydropower companies, suppliers, and contractors. We decided as a group to limit membership specifically to hydropower companies, vendors, and suppliers to encourage members to speak out at meetings in a trusted environment.
Kate Lazarus: In Myanmar, the group’s membership may be a little different. Membership is reserved for technical consultants and industry-related professionals working for the private sector.
Q: What is the purpose of the new Myanmar working group? Do you think the group will be quite similar to the group set up in Lao PDR, or will you address different issues?
Kate Lazarus: As in Lao PDR, Myanmar hydropower companies wanted to establish a working group to leverage change, including working with the government and CSOs, knowledge-sharing among companies, and addressing environmental and social issues. However, we anticipate that different issues will be addressed. For example, stakeholder engagement is at the heart of hydropower development debates in Myanmar, along with environmental risks. These are two issues we will frequently address in the group’s seminar series. Additionally, hydropower companies are interested in sharing information on project engineering and the basins they are working in. Improved coordination and communication among companies would help developers have better access to the information they need.
Q: What can members expect if they become part of the group? What would their commitment be?
Robert Allen: There are benefits to becoming a member. Being part of the group demonstrates an interest in building better projects, improving communications, and a willingness to set new standards for the sector. As a member, your company will be associated with the group’s vision and values.
Committed members attend quarterly meetings and come with an open mind. They share experiences, voice concerns, and raise questions. Members who regularly attend our seminars, listen to stakeholders, and learn from other industry professionals, benefit the most.
Q: Will the group work with government?
Kate Lazarus: In Myanmar, hydropower companies are interested in improving coordination with the government. This is one area where IFC can help. Since 2015, IFC has worked with the Ministry of Electricity and Energy and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. Our close working relationship with the government positions us well to help the working group better connect and improve information-sharing and project development.
Q: In the long term, will you look to set up more groups in the region?
Kate Lazarus: Yes! Where there’s a need, we will offer our support. IFC will set up working groups in Pakistan and Nepal to help strengthen the private sector’s role in the hydropower sector. We encourage hydropower companies interested in helping establish similar groups in their countries to contact us.
Q: Do you address both large and small hydro?
Robert Allen: The group addresses a diverse range of topics related to the industry. Member interests and requests set our agendas and seminar topics, our discussion and meeting agendas serve both small and large hydropower developers. Last year, in Lao PDR, we focused on the draft regulation for small hydropower development. This year our group will shift focus to include issues affecting larger developers.
After our business meetings, our members attend a business-lunch seminar that is often presented by NGOs, consultants, and other technical professionals. The series addresses crosscutting topics that concern all hydropower developers, including resettlement, managing environmental risks, gender, and community and worker safety.
Note: Hydropower Companies Working to Leverage Change in Myanmar
On August 18 2016 hydropower companies investing in, or interested to invest in Myanmar’s hydropower sector, joined the first general forum to mark the establishment of the Hydropower Developers’ Working Group. First established in Lao PDR in late-2013, the working group will now form in Myanmar to help hydropower companies influence policy, network, and identify solutions to improve sustainability and business operations.
At this first general forum, interested members learnt about the intended benefits of the Group, discussed their expectations, learned how to join, networked with other professionals, and became acquainted with the executive founding committee, led by local and international hydropower companies. Government officials from several ministries will also attend.
“In 2013, we started reaching out to hydropower companies in Lao PDR to assess their needs and discovered that there was interest among developers in the sector to establish a platform to channel their concerns to the government,” said Kate Lazarus, IFC team leader for hydro advisory services in Asia. “Today, the group’s momentum has generated a lot of interest among hydropower companies in Myanmar. We’re hoping for all hydropower companies that want to improve Myanmar’s hydropower sector to join us at the launch.
With support from the Australian government, IFC is helping support the establishment of the Hydropower Developers’ Working Group in Myanmar. Well positioned to help the private sector work better with the government, IFC will help the working group build capacity on good international and industry practices, improve communication with authorities and exchange with other stakeholders including non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, researchers and others that companies.
“The private sector has potential to help Myanmar meet its energy needs, where today, energy per capita is second lowest in the world,” said Lazarus. “Myanmar’s hydropower sector will greatly benefit from the private sector contributing to the debate. A better informed private sector will help improve standards.”
In Myanmar, the group will take a different shape than in Lao PDR to assure it is contextualized to the different dynamics of the country. An executive committee has form of volunteers to help shape the HDWG.
Since its inception in Lao PDR, the group has successfully contributed to providing feedback on the Regulation on Small Hydropower Development. Recently approved this month. Additionally, the group has welcomed a number of speakers from NGOs, researchers, legal and consultancy firms to learn how they can improve their business operations and to network with professionals in their field.