Thailand plans Myanmar hydropower plant

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UPI 17 February 2010

BANGKOK, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Thailand plans to go ahead with the construction of a dam and hydropower plant in Myanmar despite opposition from civic and environmental groups.

"There will be more studies. Although this may lead to a delay, the project is not scrapped," Thailand's Energy Permanent Secretary Pornchai Rujiprapa was quoted as saying by Thailand news agency The Nation.

The proposed 1.35 gigawatt Hutgyi plant to be developed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand along the Salween River was expected to start commercial operations and export power to Thailand in 2015 or 2016. But the project has been stalled because of

In reporting on the proposed location for the project, The Nation said "thousands more will suffer abuses from the Burmese army's attempts to secure the site, which have resulted in several military offensives and a large buildup of troops in the area."

Environmental and ethnic minority advocacy groups Tuesday issued an open letter to Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva urging him to revise his recent order for the energy ministry to organize a committee to look into the Hutgyi dam.

Groups opposed to the project are concerned the committee would not be impartial.

"It is unacceptable to assign the ministry that supervises the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand -- the Hutgyi dam developer -- to set up a neutral body to scrutinize the project," said Pianporn Deetes of the Southeast Asia Rivers Network, a conservation
group leading protests against dam building along the Salween.

Thailand imports an estimated 60 percent of Myanmar's gas.

A representative for Thailand's energy ministry said the government is concerned that China will take over the project if work does not resume soon.

"If the Thai government doesn't go ahead with the project, then China will take it over. This is why we have to start, though there may be further delays as more time is needed to study the details of human rights violations at the dam site," the unnamed representative told Thailand's The Irrawaddy News Magazine.

Myanmar is the country formerly known as Burma.

According to the Burma Rivers Network, there is complete military control of energy development in the country and no processes that allow for information disclosure, public participation or implementation of proper standards for building of dams. Neighboring countries, the organization says, benefit by gaining electricity without bearing the social and environmental costs.

Myanmar's offshore oil and natural gas reserves have attracted considerable interest from foreign investors. The country is estimated to have reserves of 3.2 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil.