Impact of power projects in neighbouring countries 'needs assessment'

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The Nation 29 August 2006

Thailand needs to assess the environmental and social impact of its energy investments in neighbouring countries, experts say.

Piyasvasti Amranand, chairman of the Energy for Environment Foundation and former secretary general of the National Energy Policy Office, said Thailand was in dire need of energy and was forced to buy power from its neighbours.

But, before it started spending money on power generation in these countries, it should thoroughly study both the environmental and human impact of that development. This was especially true in a country with internal unrest like Burma.

"If it backfires, Thailand will be affected and that could cause financing problems for other projects," he said at a seminar discussing Thailand's energy imports from neighbouring countries and their security implications.

Suphajee Nin-ubon is a former executive vice president of MDX Plc, a company that builds hydroelectric plants and dams.

She believed Thailand had to take into account political risks when investing in power infrastructure overseas.

"Just after Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding with Burma for the Hat Gyi hydropower project, more than 20,000 local residents had to be relocated from their homes," Suphajee said.

She suggested Thailand could help by conducting environmental impact assessments and establishing guidelines for development of nearby communities. That way, its investment would benefit neighbouring governments and their peoples.

Cham Tong, a human rights activist from Shan State, said many Burmese had been treated unfairly. Thailand's investment had affected their lives.

"If this treatment gets worse, Thailand will be affected because the number of refugees crossing the border will increase," she said.

Energy Policy and Planning Office (EPPO) official Naruepat Amornkosit said that Thailand had struck five bilateral power-purchase agreements.

It would start buying 3,000 megawatts from Laos this year, 1,500 MW from Burma in 2010, while China would start supplying 3,000 MW in 2017. Malaysia provides Thailand with 300 MW and Cambodia 20MW.

These purchases would help meet the Kingdom's demand for power, which is increasing by 6-per-cent a year.