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Blackout was 'Unavoidable'

May 23. 2013
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By The Nation

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Minister blames lightning strike on transmission line.

Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal yesterday described Tuesday evening’s blackout in all 14 southern provinces as “unavoidable” but did not come up with long-term measures to prevent a repeat in the region.

The plan to build more power plants, including coal-fuelled plants, in the region is still on track, he said.

“I insist that the [blackout] problem has nothing to do with the policy of building a coal-fired power plant,” he said.

The plan has faced opposition from local residents and environmental activists.

Some academics and activists suspect that the blackout was a conspiracy aimed at stressing the need to construct more power plants in the South.

Assistant Professor Prasart Meetam of Prince of

 Songkla University’s Faculty of Sciences, warned the government against trying to use the blackout as an excuse to push ahead with the construction of more power plants.

“Various agencies have now given conflicting information, especially on power demand in the South,” he said.

Wichai Nakjon, an environmental activist from Krabi, said he suspected the power outage was a conspiracy aimed at pointing to the need for more power plants, particularly coal-fired ones.

In April, the energy minister had warned that there would be a widespread blackout because a natural gas facility in Myanmar that supplies Thailand’s power plants was under maintenance.

Pongsak blamed lightning striking a high-voltage transmission line that supplies power from the Central region to the South. There are two such lines but the other one was under maintenance.

In the short term, another line would be added linking the Ratchaburi power plant in the Central region to the South to prevent such a problem. He has ordered a study to expand the power distribution system in the South that was estimated to cost more than Bt10 billion.

“A cause of the problem is that power produced in the South does not meet local demand. And more electricity must be sent from the Central region,” he said.

A fact-finding panel would be formed to investigate the accident.

“This power outage was widespread. This incident will be reviewed and the lessons learned will be used to prevent the problem from happening again, in the short and long terms,” he said.

The blackout began shortly before 7pm on Tuesday and lasted for about four hours in most areas of the South although electricity was resumed in many areas of the region.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the government did not want to see such a widespread power outage in the South again.

“I was shocked to learn about [the blackout]. This never happened before. We do not want to see such an outage in the entire southern region again because there are adverse impacts on tourism and the local residents,” she said before leaving for Japan.

Authorities had to find out what went wrong so that a sustainable solution could be found.

“In the long term, there must be supporting plans in case there is power outage again,” she said, citing the wide gap in demand and supply.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand apologised for the blackout.

Egat governor Sutat Patmasiriwat said in a statement that he has ordered a thorough examination of the power lines in the South so that such an event would not arise again.

Sutat said more power plants are needed in the South to prevent blackouts like the one that hit the region on Tuesday night, as demand for electricity in the region, particularly in the Andaman Coast provinces, is rising 6 per cent a year.

The three main plants in the South were only capable of delivering 1.6 gigawatts per day, while the region consumes about 2.5GW, so Egat had no choice but to go ahead with the coal-fired plant in Krabi and plan for more, he said.

The private sector called on the government to ensure such a widespread blackout would not occur again.

Pornsilp Patcharintanakul, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the government should quickly provide a clear explanation to the public because the blackout in the South was a sensitive issue.

Thanit Sorat, secretary-general of the Federation of Thailand Industries, said the government should ensure that a similar event would not recur and it should find out which party would be held responsible for this instance.


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