Sarawak holds nearly all of Malaysia's coal reserves

PETALING JAYA - Sarawak is committed to exploiting fossil fuel resources found within its border and plans to use coal for power generation.

This is only natural as the state holds nearly 70 per cent of Malaysia's coal reserve, while Sabah comes in a distant second.

There are at least two coal-fired power stations in Sarawak at the moment - Mukah and Sejinkat - which contribute more than a third of the state's installed generation capacity.

In addition to these, Sarawak Energy is proposing a new 600MW Balingian coal-fired power plant, and has stated that a top priority of the Balingian project was to "utilise rich local resources of coal as the energy source and to achieve sustainable development and operation".

Expected to come on line in 2018, the project is located near the Balingian River, 25km south-east of the existing 270MW Mukah power station or about 60km from Mukah town.

According to Sarawak Energy's website, the plant will utilise coal mined from the Mukah-Balingian region, one of the four major coal-rich areas in the state.

The three others are Silantek (near Kalimantan's Ketungau valleys), Merit-Pita and the Bintulu areas.

According to a paper by the Sarawak geological department, the quality of Sarawak coal ranges from low-grade lignite (more polluting when burned) to bituminous coal (better quality than lignite) and anthracite (considered the "best" coal).

Used mainly for power generation, anthracite has the highest carbon content and least impurities, and contains the most energy compared to the other two types of coal.

The geological survey by the state, conducted nearly three decades ago, estimates the Silantek area coal reserve to have around 7.45 million tonnes of bituminous and anthracitic coal.

However, mining for bituminous coal is probably the most hazardous compared to the others as this type of coal tends to give off the largest amount of explosive gases, known as firedamp.

As such, the extraction of bituminous coal demands the highest standards of gas monitoring, ventilation and site management.