The military regime has failed to produce the coherent, forward-looking national energy policy it promised. But it has been consistent on one point -- the South needs more electricity, and it is going to get it from coal-fired power plants. It is time to drop this backward, ultimately harmful and massively unpopular plan and look ahead.
This all seems obvious simply from reading the news. It is disconcerting that the regime has been in power for two years and nine months and has failed to see it. Residents of Krabi and Songkhla -- the latter scheduled to get a double dose of coal-fired energy -- have been clear with their opinions. The army has been called out several times to try to repress public opinion in Chana district of Songkhla. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha personally commented, disparagingly, of Krabi people who came to Bangkok to let him know of their opposition.
Yet against scientific evidence, environmental logic and citizen persuasion, the regime continuously edges closer to building coal-consuming plants. Energy experts and concerned citizens alike have proposed numerous alternatives. For example, just last week, Democrat Party leaders Abhisit Vejjajiva and Korn Chatikavanij put forward a plan to substitute liquefied natural gas (LNG) and palm oil for coal. The people's sector in Krabi proposed a power development plan which see the province depend 100% on renewable energy. The silence from the government was deafening.
To be fair, the plan for coal-fired energy did not originate with the military. The main mover is the agency responsible, literally, for keeping the lights burning, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, or Egat. Over the past couple of decades, the board, planners and advisers of this state enterprise have gone from agile and inventive to unimaginative and stubborn.
What happens behind the scenes can't be known, but the Ministry of Energy and government appear to be following Egat's recent inability to think and plan outside the box, instead of encouraging useful, alternative policies.
If more reasons were needed for the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration to scrap the plans for more coal-fired electricity, Europe provided them last week. The international firm Climate Analytics' 52-page report on coal-fired power plants had a shocking conclusion. It showed how badly electricity produced by coal is harming the environment. Here is the bottom line.
If Europe is to meet the minimum goals of its own Paris climate pledges to reduce emissions, it will have to close all 300 power stations using coal. That is a major challenge for Europe, although it does not directly affect Thailand, whose emission controls are different from developed nations. The point, however, is the clear and present danger of the emissions from coal-fired plants. It is so high that not one of them can remain working in Europe in the next 10 years.
There is no excuse, then, for Thailand to continue such a harmful and widely condemned policy. The Prayut government must abandon its quest for coal-fired power.
The good news is the wide variety of alternatives. The need to jettison the plans for coal only accentuates the equally urgent task of stopping the piecemeal, experimental and actually tiny forays into alternative energy. It is time to institute proper plans and programmes for large-scale solar, wind, wave and other power sources. It is time, in other words, for that comprehensive, modern energy policy to be put in proper form and brought to the public for debate, adjustment and approval.
Bringing new, diverse power plans into the mainstream is necessary to move the economy forward. Clean energy, made sustainable, is good for the whole country.