Palm oil mills in Sabah can produce around 120 Megawatt (MW) of power generated by biomass and biogas, says Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.
Quoting the findings of a recent survey conducted by consultant company Frost & Sullivan, he said the full potential of renewable energy generated by all 120 mills in this state was 260MW, but only 120MW was deliverable as most mills had poor access to the transmission line grids and it would be expensive to connect to them.
"Sabah already has the technology to harness electric power from biomass and biogas from the oil palm mills.
"The only problem preventing them (owners of mills) is the distance from the power grid. If it exceeds four kilometres, it adds to the cost and at the same time Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB) is not ready to buy at a tariff rate higher than 21 sen a unit," he said after opening the Seminar and Workshop on Palm Oil Mill Effluent Tertiary Treatment Technologies (POMET3) here, Monday.
Thus, his ministry and MPOB (Malaysian Palm Oil Board) are proposing that SESB raise the power purchase price of more than 21 sen for per kw/hour, to between 31 sen and 35 sen for per kw/hour to make it profitable for palm oil mills to undertake the initiative.
Dompok said he had briefed the Cabinet during the last meeting on MPOB's efforts to encourage palm oil mills to generate renewable energy and that the issue of the tariff offered by power purchasers, is being considered by the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry.
There are currently 428 palm oil mills in the country, of which 120 are in Sabah. The mills' effluent generate greenhouse gases like methane and estate owners can trap and utilise the methane for production of biogas and in the case of biomass, the mills' effluent can be used for composting with empty fruit bunches (EFB), thus avoiding discharge to waterways.
Dompok mentioned an example of a palm oil plantation in Teluk Intan, Perak, which he visited a couple of days ago, where the owners are using biogas and biomass to produce electricity for their own purposes in the mill, and also to supply electricity to the houses of their staff.
On another question, Dompok said realistically the electricity generated from biomass and biogas can only assist towards relieving the shortage of power supply in the Sabah, but it cannot be the main producer for electricity generation.
"It cannot replace what we have at the moment. It can only add up, increase the amount of power available in the state of Sabah," he said when asked if the potential electricity capacity from biomass and biogas was the answer to power woes in Sabah.
More importantly, Dompok said, the government was hoping these initiatives will help to "clean up" the palm oil industry in Malaysia, which has suffered adverse publicity from Western environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and intense pressure at the international front with regard to the greenhouse gas emission savings requirement imposed on palm oil used as a source of biofuel.
Meanwhile, commenting on the workshop which offers a platform to discuss new solutions in the treatment of palm oil mills effluent, Dompok said while most mills in this country adhered to the 100 milligram per litre Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) general standard of palm oil mill effluent discharge, for environmentally sensitive areas such as raw water intake points for water treatment plants and in Sabah and Sarawak, they need to meet the reduced BOD level to 20 mg per litre.
The Environment Quality Act 1974 and the Environmental Quality Regulations (Prescribed Premises) (Crude Palm Oil) 1977 require palm oil mills to adhere to prescribed regulations including laws governing discharge of mill effluent into water course and land, where it is mandatory for all mills to treat their waste waters on site to an acceptable level before discharging them into water courses.
Out of the total palm oil mills nationwide, 81 mills are required to meet the 20 mg per litre standard; and out of this, 61 mills have complied, Dompok said.