Egat warns of April blackouts

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) has warned of hours-long power outages in the first half of April due to an expected disruption of the natural gas supply from Myanmar.

Governor Suthat Patmasiriwat said blackouts are possible on weekday afternoons from April 4-12 when the scheduled platform maintenance of the Yadana block in Myanmar's Martaban Gulf could cause supply disruptions. The work could affect as much as 6,000 megawatts of power generation in Thailand, or 23% of peak demand of 26,121 MW in 2012.

Peak demand is expected to reach 27,000 MW this year, up 4% from 2012. Standby-mode power plants have total capacity of only 600 MW, down by half from last year as old units are retired.

Egat is considering options such as delaying the maintenance programmes of several power plants, shifting to power plants run on bunker oil and diesel, and calling for additional supplies from hydroelectric power plants in Laos.

But these measures can offset only 5,000 MW of gas-based generation.

"That means we'll still be short nearly 1,000 MW if the Myanmar gas supply is disrupted," said Mr Suthat, adding this amount means 1 million 12,000-BTU (British Thermal Unit) air conditioners would have to be turned off during the peak hours of 1 to 3pm during that period.

"If required, we would have to figure out which offices, sectors or areas would have to be switched off."

Electricity demand has been growing sharply but the development of new power plants has been delayed, including those developed by private producers. The government has also failed to diversify the fuels used in power generation, leaving gas to dominate up to 70% of power generation.

France-based Total, the operator of the Yadana block, insisted it cannot postpone the scheduled maintenance. Oil and gas giant PTT Plc said it could pump an additional 110 million standard cubic feet per day (MMSCFD) from the Gulf of Thailand on top of the existing 3,100 MMSCFD.

Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisarn said Thailand now needs to diversify to clean coal technology.

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Writer: Yuthana Praiwan
Position: Business Reporter