Dozens of small fishing vessels and aquaculture can be seen at the mouth of the Thepa River, where fishing is the main economic activity of the people in Thepa District of Songkhla
PINK and green flags flying outside homes in the peaceful Tambon Pak Bang fishing village in Songkhla’s Thepa district may be merely insignificant decorations to the outsider.
But to residents of the quiet community they represent a clear division over plans for a major coal-fired power plant on their doorstep.
Local communities in the South are clearly divided over plans by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) to locate coal-fired power projects in Thepa district and Krabi’s Nuea Khlong district.
When The Nation visited Tambon Pak Bang, where a 2,200-megawatt power plant will be located, it was just another quiet and peaceful fishing community on the Thepa River delta.
One obvious difference, however, was the banners and flags waving in the wind – with pink flags indicating power-plant supporters, and green ones, opponents.
Assarinda Latae, who owns a small restaurant in the village, said the community had become divided over the issue, with some people now avoiding talking to each other.
“Many people around here, including me, don’t want the coal-fired power plant because we are concerned about the environmental impact from the plant on our abundant sea,” she said.
“The people who object to the power plant are mostly fishermen, who rely on the rich marine resource. If the sea is polluted by the plant, not only fishermen will suffer from a loss of income, but my business will be affected as well, because my customers and fresh-seafood providers are these same fishermen,” she explained.
Assarinda also said the people who backed the power plant were mostly unemployed, and that Egat had given them money to support its project.
“When Egat arranged a gathering to garner support for the power plant, they gave them money and food for their attendance, so these people favoured the project,” she said.
Rokeeyoh Jeh-uma, meanwhile, said Egat provided support for her family.
“I am old and cannot really do anything. The officers from Egat taught me how to make a purse, got all the required material for me, and bought these purses from me for Bt15 apiece,” she said, while knitting a purse.
“I am also concerned about the impact of the power plant, but Egat said there would be no adverse effect on the community, so I don’t oppose the project. I think it will create job opportunities for local people and our children can work for a reliable wage in the plant.”
Air Prommul, another supporter, said the plant would benefit the community, but non-government organisations (NGOs) tried to sway the community against the plan.
“Egat took me and many other people in the community to visit the Mae Moh coal-fired power plant in Lampang, and there was no problem at all to the environment there,” he said.
“I believe that Egat can operate the power plant well to prevent any adverse impact on the community, even although I don’t understand much about their system,” he added.
He stressed that the power plant would, however, be built no matter what, and that those who objected were only obstructing the development because they listened to the NGOs. “I don’t know what they were told, but these NGOs definitely have their agenda to undermine the project,” Air said.
A similar division also prevails at the site of the planned Krabi coal-fired power plant.
Ban Thung Prasan village head Somsak Nobnorb said the conflict between the two groups over the power plant had split the community.
“The conflict is not so severe that people from different groups harm each other, but it is already deeply rooted at the family level. Some people don’t even talk to family members on the other side [of opinion],” Somsak said.
“I noticed that the conflict was escalating when Egat poured funding into the power-plant supporter group, and I think that this is the major problem that hinders harmony within our community,” he said.
The situation will only get worse when the deadline for the project nears and detailed plans are revealed, he added.