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'Coal plants best choice for now'

Jan 12. 2015
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Egat plans to build coal power facilities in Songkhla, Krabi in 2016, 2019
DESPITE PUBLIC concern about their environmental impact, coal-fired power plants have been emerging as a vital force for the country’s energy security. 
This fact is evident in the vision of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, which believes that “clean-coal” technology would be a |perfect solution for this country. 
“Coal-fired power plants will build energy security,” said Anuchart Palakawongse na Ayudhya, Egat director of environmental projects. “With ‘clean-coal’ technology, coal will be the best energy source for the country’s power generation in the next one or two decades.”
He revealed that Egat planned to boost coal as the energy source for power generation from 14 per cent to 23 per cent by 2030. 
Anuchart was speaking as an Egat team led reporters on a visit to Germany to inspect the Schwarze Pumpe power plant, which uses |lignite, the Power Plant of Mainova, which relies on coal, and the Binselberg Wind Park, where electricity is generated by wind energy. 
The trip offered a glimpse of how a new-generation lignite-fired power plants can be “friendly” to the environment. 
Binselberg Wind Park can generate up to 9,000 megawatts of electricity a year with its two turbine sets. It “lowers” carbon dioxide emissions by 5,800 tonnes every year.
Egat has emphasised that while it is trying to push for the use of a coal-fired power plant in Krabi, it has not lost focus on renewable-energy |promotion. 
“We will continue to boost the percentage of renewable energy in power generation too. It should rise from 14 per cent now to 28 per cent by 2030,” said Wiwat Chancherngpanich, Egat’s assistant governor for power plant construction. 
Like Anuchart, Wiwat believes that coal is a good choice for electricity generating, saying production costs range from Bt2.8 to Bt3 per unit.
“When using wind energy, the cost is between Bt5 and Bt6 per unit,” he pointed out. “When using solar energy, the cost ranges between Bt8 and Bt9 per unit.”
He also said that renewable energy was still not very stable as a source of power generation. 
“For example, if we stick to solar energy, we must understand that we may get just four or five hours of sunlight on some days,” Wiwat said.
Egat’s plan to set up a coal-fired power plant in Krabi, however, has drawn opposition from locals and environmentalists. 
They have highlighted what happened to people living near the lignite-fired Mae Moh Power Plant in Lampang. There, locals have been struggling with pollution and related health issues. 
According to Anuchart, the Mae Moh plant has been improved and has reduced its sulphur dioxide emissions significantly. 
He said that Egat recognised that the Mae Moh plant was old and it would be closed soon. 
“As for our new projects, we should be able to do at least as well as Germany,” he said.
For example, for the planned coal-fired power plant in Krabi, he said that Egat would spend up to Bt800 million on constructing a tunnel for coal transportation along a stretch that went past a mangrove forest. 
He said that the transportation system would be closed in order to prevent environmental impacts along the route. Boats used for coal transportation would stay clear of coral reefs off Phi Phi Island and Lanta Island. 
Dust particles from the plant’s emissions would be 30 milligrammes per cubic metre of air, much lower than the standard 80 milligrammes per cubic metre of air. 
Sulphur dioxide emissions would also be far below the standard requirement.
“Our consulting firm is in the process of gathering people’s opinions,” Anuchart said.
He said that if the Bt50 billion plant got Cabinet approval, its construction would start in 2016 and finish in 2019.
He said that the plant – which would replace an old plant at the same location – would use sub-bituminus coal, an “eco-friendly” raw material. 
That plant and two plants planned for Songkhla were crucial in ensuring electricity security in the South.
“We still need coal-fired power plants,” Anuchart said. 
However, the many protests mean there are now question marks over whether the Krabi and Songkhla plants will go ahead. And if they are not constructed, would Egat be able to find enough energy to meet needs
Wiwat said that if the power plants could not use coal to produce power, Egat would have to consider other options such as liquefied natural gas, which would cause the electricity-producing cost to increase by Bt2-3.
The other option would be to buy energy from other sources such as dams in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
If that happened, Wiwat said the country would become dependant on other countries to meet its energy requirements.

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