Challenges await next energy chief

Challenges await next energy chief

Unsettled matters include bids for offshore blocks, long-running dispute with Cambodia

Mr Sontirat bids farewell to Energy Ministry executives on Friday after his resignation from the cabinet on Thursday.
Mr Sontirat bids farewell to Energy Ministry executives on Friday after his resignation from the cabinet on Thursday.

Outgoing Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong leaves huge challenges for his successor to deal with, ranging from various much-delayed projects and an unsettled maritime conflict involving petroleum blocks to alleged abuse of energy budget spending.

Though the minister, who resigned from the cabinet Thursday because of the power change in the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, did not express concern over the unfinished jobs, the new minister is likely to be tasked with hard work from day one.

The pandemic is causing further delay to energy development plans, some of which have been on ice for more than a decade.

One issue is the plan to call for bids for licences for petroleum exploration and production under Round 23, which has been delayed for almost 13 years.

Mr Sontirat previously scheduled next week as the period to invite firms interested in the new investment to declare, but that plan was cancelled.

Round 23 covers 38 oil and gas blocks in the Gulf of Thailand.

Another long-running concern is a conflict between Thailand and Cambodia, which both claim ownership of offshore petroleum blocks in their overlapping maritime territories. Mr Sontirat expects a resumption of talks to resolve the dispute after a delay of 20 years.

He is also optimistic about the solar rooftop project, believing it should be relaunched in the second half of this year after some of its conditions are amended to encourage householders to produce and sell electricity.

Officials set a target to initially produce 50 megawatts under the project.

Thailand has allowed people to jointly generate electricity from solar sources since 2013, but prices in the power trade are not attractive enough to draw participants, Mr Sontirat said.

Another challenge for the new minister is ensuring transparency in the Energy Conservation Fund, notorious for alleged abuses of budget spending for three decades.

But none of these issues left Mr Sontirat worried.

"I'm not much concerned because I've done many things to prepare for further development," he said. "People can also easily keep these issues in check nowadays because we all have social media and rights to file complaints."

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