Thai Energy Minister turns down power purchase from Salween dams. Why?

Key Issues: 

Prachatai 12 June 2007

By Wittayakorn Boonreung

On June 10, 2007, I came across an interesting news report from a Malaysian news agency Bernama.

According to Bernama, Thailand's Energy Minister Piyasavasti Amarananda has refused to purchase power to be generated by Salween dams from the Burmese junta, saying the current government would not seek sources of energy in Myanmar.

Piyasavasti reportedly said that the ministry had yet to sign any contracts with Myanmar ; only a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a feasibility study on the dam project had been signed.

"This government's policy is different from that of its predecessor in the last five years," Piyasavasti said to foreign correspondents during a field trip to Krabi.

However, the 5,000 MW purchase from Laos is to proceed, and a joint venture with China is being deliberated.   Both will be carried out in the next administration, he said.

The news article further says that the previous government had business ties with the Myanmar junta, which was a point of criticisms by human rights advocates against the Salween power purchase deal.

The junta's mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar reported that a Thai company MDX had invested 6 billion USD to build a Ta Sang dam in the east of Shan state, one of those dams planned on the Salween river.  The construction of 868-meter length and 227-meter height, located about 75 kilometers away from Thailand's border, has begun since this March 30.

The hydropower dam will have a generation capacity of 7,110MW, generating 35,446 million kilowatt-hours per year. (see Thailand Not Buying Power From Myanmar's Salween River - Piyasvasti)

Return of dams and power plants in the country to stimulate the economy. Will the people allow?

Readers.  Please do not be swayed with the idea that this interim Thai government comes up with a policy upholding human rights in Myanmar by refraining from making a deal with the junta.  There are some points to be reckoned with.

Thailand's economy has always been expanded; hence the ever growing of energy demand.   However, people's movements against dams and power plants construction have also come on strong in recent years.  Lessons learnt from controversial cases such as Mae Moh power plants or several dams repel the idea of having power plants and dams in one's neighborhood.

Perhaps due to the local people's such strong sentiment against polluting projects, the previous government saw fit to shove the environmental burden to its neighboring countries instead.

Nonetheless, energy projects inside the country are not scrapped for good, rather waiting to re-emerge.

Is it now time to say that we should have power plants and dams inside our border again?   The Independent Power Producer (IPP) scheme has been revived after all these years.

And now it is not merely a matter of future energy security, but also a means to stimulate the economy.

And the movements have begun.

Energy Ministry Deputy Permanent Secretary Dr Kurujit Nakontap said that to build a 700MW power plant costs around 20 billion baht, so the investment on 4-5 IPP power plants due to be open for bidders in June 2007 for a combined capacity of 3,200MW is estimated to be over 100 billion baht, starting from 2008.   That would benefit the economy, and secure the country's energy supply, he said.

The IPP bidding is included in the government's Power Development Plan 2007 (PDP 2007), which plans for new generation capacity of 39, 676.25MW for the next 15 years (2007-2021).  The new supply is divided into two phases: phase 1, projects already approved and under construction during 2007-2010, 7,885.25MW in total; and phase 2, projects to be proceeded during 2011-2021, 31,791MW in total, including 16 projects of 12,400MW run by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT)--2,800MW out of that would be from coal, 18 IPP projects of 12,600MW, Small Power Producer (SPP) projects of 1,700MW, and electricity imports from neighboring countries of 5,091MW.   The total investment cost is 2.08 trillion baht: 1.37 trillion baht for the EGAT's generation and transmission expansion, and 0.71 trillion baht for the IPP, SPP, and imports. (see   Manager Online June 4, 2007)

A researcher of Research Fund Office Prida Wibunsawat said that Thailand's 25 river basins can be tapped for power generation of up to 15,000MW by building small multi-purpose dams of up to 200MW each.   If equipped with a sound research and development plan, Thailand should be able to get 5,000MW, in addition to 3,500MW currently produced by hydropower dams.   It is necessary to inform the people that the energy produced from small dams can significantly reduce the fluctuating prices of energy, as in Japan or Europe.

Furthermore, the Mekong river bordering Thailand and Laos from Loei to Ubon Ratchatani can also be tapped for another 5,000MW.

This is what conservation groups have to prepare to battle for.

The refusal to buy power from the Salween dams is an excuse to have more domestic sources of energy, while the joint venture with China seems to go nowhere, and power to be purchased from Laos can never replace the missing megawatts from Salween dams.

However, we cannot rest assured of what Piyasawat has said.   As long as the people's movements remain strong, it would be difficult for those dam builders to revive their dreams.  And the Thai company has already put so much money on the Salween projects, and the construction still continues.


Translated by Ponglert Pongwanan