When asked about any plans for grid-arrival in his village, Oo Hla Myint shared, “the government said they have no plan to give us electricity. That is why I bought the generator.” With roughly USD 2,000 of his own savings and around USD 5,000 collected from households, he purchased and installed a 50 kW diesel generator mini-grid in 2007. Today, the system provides lighting, mobile charging, television access, and the ability to power small appliances for the village from dark until 10 PM in addition to electricity for day-time appliances such as power-tools and refrigerators.
After learning about electricity metering from a fellow meesayar (Burmese for “electrician”), he installed household meters in 2012 and started to charge houses based on how much they used, rather than a flat fee per month. This meant that he could better track electricity consumption and also gives households the flexibility to only use what they could afford. The tariff is still high, with households currently paying $0.45 per kWh (roughly 20x the price in Yangon); however, they are happy with the flexibility as their income is seasonal with harvest cycles. He even issues receipts so households can monitor their meter readings and track expenses.
This is just one of the ways in which Oo Hla Myint ensures that the electricity service meets the needs of his community. Like most meesayar, his relationship with households isn’t a provider-customer relationship but rather a community-minded one. He sets the price based on what he needs to cover his costs and make sufficient income and households understand that this is fair and are happy to pay. While the system isn’t perfect, when households do have issues, it is mainly from wires breaking, which he always fixes the same day.
Oo Hla Myint’s service doesn’t stop at providing electricity. Since the system was installed, he has employed roughly 10 villagers to support his operations, from completing meter readings and collecting tariffs, to doing repair work. Looking forward, he wants to make sure that the system will continue to serve his community: “I am already 65 and want a young person to take over one day, I need to train and pay young people to learn the work.”
Beyond this, he hopes that he will be able to upgrade the system to provide more electricity for households and be able to supply more businesses so people have access to other sources of income besides farming. “The paddy-field water is saltier every year and the harvest is not good; my village needs to find new ways to make money and electricity can help with this.”
Today, high-voltage transmission lines run over Oo Hla Myint’s village, but still, they rely on the mini-grid. The lines were installed in 2016 but when asked why the village couldn’t use them, the government response was the same as before, no plan to provide electricity to Pa Thaung. Oo Hla Myint shared, “it’s ok, we do not need the government because we can keep doing it ourselves.”