Thursday, July 18, 2019

Govt must come clean over Krabi coal plant

Feb 23. 2017
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By Sasithorn Ongdee
The Nation

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With tensions nearing boiling point over the proposed Krabi coal-fired power plant, the prime minister has poured on cold water by ordering the restart of the Environment and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA).

His move halted more than two years of protest against the 870-megawatt project.

However, Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha wants a one-year deadline for the EHIA – though the Cabinet has not yet given the green light. Should the impact assessment restart from the beginning, the start of operations at the plant are expected to be delayed until 2023-2024.

 The bid to build the plant has already been won, but the contract cannot be signed until the EHIA process is completed.

The current EHIA has already been conducted and is only awaiting endorsement by the National Environment Board.

The PM promised that the project would be scrapped if it could not pass the EHIA, but the chief opposition group remains sceptical. 

“We do not believe the verbal promise,” said the Save Andaman from Coal Network. “We will wait for the official statement, because we are concerned that there may be unacceptable terms within the official written order.”

Significant public doubt over the project remains, despite assurances from Prayut and other authorities.

Governments have been campaigning for years to convince citizens of the need for a large power plant to meet growing demand for electricity in the southern provinces.

But widespread scepticism remains over why the plant should be coal-fired and why it should be located in Krabi. Wouldn’t a focus on renewable energy be less damaging to the environment and the tourist industry, a vital source of national revenue? 

Critics also claim the Krabi plant would benefit other areas while polluting the environment for locals. Among their concerns is that shipping in the coal by sea risks serious damage to marine life.

Others argue that the coal-fired plant is set to be built on the site of an old power plant fuelled by diesel and oil, also brought in by sea. New technology and “clean” coal would at least mean lower emissions than its predecessor. 

Cost is a key factor in the government’s calculations, with electricity generated by coal-fired plants much cheaper than that harvested from renewable sources such as solar cells and wind turbines.

Yet Thai environmentalists are wary of the claims being made for “clean” coal, with many convinced the government is exaggerating its benefits in an effort to overcome public opposition.

That tension is typical of the debate on the Krabi plant so far. At every turn, the government has failed to gain public trust in the project, suspected of being economical with the truth and unaccountable to genuine concerns.

To overcome this impasse in what is a critical national issue, authorities must improve their communication by honestly demonstrating the pros and cons of the Krabi project so that the people can make an informed decision on how to meet their energy needs.

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