For over the last ten years, Prachuab Kirikan's Thab Sakae district has been relatively peaceful, despite heated conflicts on coal-fired power projects in adjacent districts Ban Krood and Bo Nok.
Since 1995 local people of Bo Nok and Ban Krood have been organized and fought relentlessly against the construction of two huge coal-fired power plants in their neighborhood, until the projects were relocated to other provinces in 2003. One of their leaders Charoen Watakson was killed on June 21, 2004. The masterminds have yet to be punished.
Initially, Thab Sakae was also slated for another large-scale coal-fired power plant to be developed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), while the other two at Ban Krood and Bo Nok were IPPs (Independent Power Producers). The economic crisis in 1997 has put the project on the shelf ever since, until recently.
The Power Development Plan (PDP) 2007, the state's master plan for power supply during 2007-2021, has recently been approved, after a hearing session for the plan held at a hotel in Bangkok was disrupted by the local people from those three districts, and days later was moved to the Army Auditorium. Thab Sakae has been on the agenda again as the EGAT's site for a coal-fired power plant, as the PDP assigns the state utility to supply 2,800MW from coal.
The PDP plans for the power supply of 39,676.25MW in total, based on 5-6% growth rate of GDP all through the years; 7,885.25MW from plants under construction during 2007-2010, and 31,791MW from projects during 2011-2021, including 12,400MW by the EGAT, 12,600MW by IPPs, 1,700MW by SPPs, and 5,091MW imports from neighboring country. The first 3,200MW IPP bidding will be open in June this year.
Local people in Prachuab Kirikan are always on the alert with any news of coal-fired power development, especially when a source at the EGAT said in an interview on May 24, that the EGAT was considering 2-3 locations, and would finally choose only one place to build 4 units of 700MW coal-fired power stations, adding that Thab Sakae was the most likely as the EGAT had already purchased the land and had had some preparation for over 10 years.
With the local resistance being renewed and the well-known struggle history, however, the EGAT seems reluctant to pinpoint the location, claiming that the PDP 2007 does not locate the exact site. Nevertheless, a draft version of the PDP provided at the hearing session in February clearly identifies Thab Sakae as the location for 3 units of 700MW coal-fired power plants and Krabi for another 700MW plant.
That prompts the mercury to rise in Thab Sakae.
Sureerat Taechutrakun, leader of Thab Sakae conservation group, said that the EGAT had bought about 4,000 rai of land in Na Hukwang subdistrict 10 years ago, and the site is only 6 kilometers away from the site of Ban Krood power plant. According to a study on public participation in the project, the EGAT spent about 2 billion baht on the land purchase in which the National Counter Corruption Committee pointed out a corruption involving the EGAT's personnel.
"In 1997, the EGAT hired Prince of Songkla University to do the environmental impact assessment, but then the project was postponed. In 2006, it was said that the EGAT was restarting the project. Previously, people from Thab Sakae went to join Bo Nok and Ban Krood. Now we have organized ourselves since late last year," Sureerat said.
According to Sureerat, opponents to the project were mainly fisher folks and coconut farmers who fear the impacts to their livelihood as seen in the case of Mae Moh power plants in Lampang where villagers suffered and needed to resettle somewhere else.
"Clean coal doesn't exist. Just look at Mae Moh. They claim that it's cheap, because they never include the health and environmental impacts. Massive amount of coal is burned. It's impossible that there's no impact," she said.
"These local fisher folks have to depend on the sea, while the power plant needs seawater for cooling. If the project is full-scale developed according to the EGAT's advertisement, the 4,000MW plants would need 700,000 cubic meters of seawater everyday for 25 years. The fishers would just have to quit."
The conservation group has steadfastly shown its opposition, and then the EGAT decided not to give the district 150 million baht to support local development, as it had been questioned about its true purpose.
However, the Energy Ministry came up with an initiative to set up a community development fund, aiming to ease the conflict. Power plant operators are to be required to contribute to the fund: 1 satang/kilowatt-hour for gas-fired plants, and 2 satang/kilowatt-hour for coal-fired plants. A gas-fired power plant with a capacity of 700MW is expected to pay 50 million baht a year, and a coal-fired one 100 million baht a year. The fund will start on July 1, 2007 with the estimated inflow of 1.85 billion baht per year.
Nevertheless, the operators' contributions to the fund will be passed on to the Ft charge, resulting in an increased 1.2 satang/kilowatt-hour.
"The villagers don't care at all the 2 satang fund, as what they already have is much more than what the EGAT pledges to offer. The money will never compensate the health and livelihood of the villagers. Currently they can rely on themselves. If you want that bit of money, you'll become a beggar. No one will trade off. And finally the fund will be shouldered by rate payers in the form of the Ft charge," said Sureerat.
As yet there has been no rift between supporters and opponents of the Thab Sakae power project, typically happening in light of any large-scale development projects elsewhere. The group leader said that if the EGAT still insisted, the local opposition would be 'intensified', although Thab Sakae is plagued with local mafia.
Thab Sakae is just one of those examples of conflicts between local communities and the state-imposed development, with the principles of public participation enshrined in the 1997 Constitution never realized.
For the matter of energy, the unrealistic projection of power demand rigidly based on the high GDP growth rate, the excess reserve of electricity, and the insincere attempt to seek renewable sources of energy, are big questions. As long as those questions are not addressed, Thab Sakae is not the only volcano waiting to erupt.
Rayong people say no to coal-fired power plant
Khaosod website, June 11, 2007
People in Rayong came out to oppose a coal-fired power project, submitting petition to stop it.
At 10.00AM, June 10, 2007, Sutthi Atchasai, coordinator of Eastern People Network, with over 200 Rayong residents gathered to protest a petroleum refinery company IRPC plc of which the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) holds the majority share. The protesters opposed the construction of a 3,000MW coal-fired power plant, for fear of pollution as the site is near the urban area.
The protesters took to the Sukumvit road on 50 cars, heading to the town of Rayong while delivering speeches on the way on the impacts of the power plant. They placed their petition in front of the IRPC office.
Translated by Ponglert Pongwanan