Salween dams ‘will push up electricity costs’

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Bangkok Post 7 March 2006


Mae Hong Son – Thai-Burmese hydro-electricity projects on the Salween River could hit Thai consumers with higher electricity costs once the dams are operational, experts have warned.

Electricity from the Salween dam projects will likely cause an over-supply of electricity which could force consumers to bear unnecessary investment costs in the dam projects, Witoon Permpongsacharoen, a former member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council told a recent seminar in Mae Hong Son.

Mr Witoon said that Egat Plcs electricity demand forecast was based on a Thai economic growth rate of 6.5%, but the rate declined to 5.2% last year and Egat did not adjust their forecast.

Instead of recalculating its electricity demand projection, he said, Egat went ahead with its plan to seek out new electricity sources in neighbouring countries, including the Salween dam projects.

Egat has over-estimated electricity demand. For instance, in 2003, 19,600 megawatts of electricity demand was forecast, while actual use was 19,326 megawatts, nearly 300 megawatts below forecast, he said, adding that a power investment policy based on distorted electricity projections would adversely impact taxpayers.

Moreover, once Thailand and Burma ink the electricity purchase deal, it is likely that Thailand will have to pay Burma whether we take the electricity or not, said Mr Witoon.

The investment costs and financial losses derived from the deals take-or-pay condition would be added to the electricity fees that Thai consumers would have to pay, he said.

The Ministry of Energy, on behalf of the Thai government, signed a memorandum of understanding with Burmas Ministry of Electric Power in May last year to develop the dam projects on the Salween River.

Five hydropower dams, with combined capacity of about 12,000 megawatts, are expected to be built on the river – the last free flowing river in the Mekong region.

Egat said the 1,000-megawatt Hutgyi dam would be the first dam constructed. The dam site is about 50km deep in Burmese territory, opposite Tak province.

Chavalit Vidthayanon, head of World Wildlife Fund Thailands Marine and Freshwater Unit, voiced concern about the ecological impact of the dams.

The Salween, which flows for more than 2,000km from the Himalayas, has a diverse ecosystem that supplies food to millions of people in the region, he said.

According to a study by Mr Chavalit, at least 170 fish species inhabit the river, of which 60 are endemic species.

The proposed five-dam mega-project would devastate fish habitat, he said, sharp decreasing the fish populations on which people along the Salween rely.

Geologist Prinya Nutalaya warned of possible damage from earthquakes since there are at least three active faults along the river.

Egat should take into account the earthquake risk before going ahead with the projects, he said.
Somsri Kruenae,42, an ethnic Karen villager from Ban Tha Ta Fang in Mae Hong Son, called on the government to scrap the dam projects, which would inundate vast areas of land.

He said his village was on the riverside and would likely be flooded, forcing the eviction of hundreds of villagers.