Wise move over Krabi

Wise move over Krabi

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha deserves credit for retreating from his tenacious stance over the Krabi power plant. It took two unpleasant weeks of rhetoric and protest, but in the end the people who are directly involved in the issue must have a place at the table. This is only a minor step forward. Yet it shows that the government may be willing to listen — although it might not move the Krabi issue closer to a proper resolution.

On July 10, two unlikely heroes began a hunger strike in Bangkok. Prasitchai Nunuan and Akradej Chakjunda brought Krabi's most pressing current issue to the streets of Bangkok. Within a week, they had wide support, including 2,000 signatures on a petition and the unexpected arrival of 100 friends and allies from their province. They moved their protest to the gates of Government House. That is when Gen Prayut made a series of gaffes and political missteps.

He ridiculed the hunger strike. He suggested Mr Prasitchai and Mr Akradej might be sneaking out at night to eat. As the pair openly drank water and tea, the prime minister noted to some amusement that it was impossible to live for more than three days without food and water.

If the coal-fired power plant cannot be built on the pristine shores of Krabi, then everyone can "just use lanterns" instead of electric lights, he said sarcastically. Of course the development card, and the South's need for power are the driving force behind the demands of Gen Prayut and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) for the Krabi plant.

This then was followed by the third error by the prime minister in the Krabi issue. He claimed repeatedly that only a coal-fired plant — actually a series of them across several southern provinces — could meet the predicted demand for electricity. The prime minister repeated the Egat claim that alternative energy is incapable of meeting the supposed demand in the South in coming years.

There are two striking problems with this stance. It is a false either-or choice that illustrates battlefield-type thinking. The prime minister claimed repeatedly that either Krabi will get a coal-fired plant or there will not be enough electricity generated to power the South. In fact, there are many other solutions. These include, but are not limited to, alternative energy, mixed sources and relocating the proposed plant away from people-friendly beaches.

Gen Prayut should exercise more caution over Egat's campaign that bypasses environmental concerns, ignores alternative energy solutions and builds its ecologically unfriendly coal-powered empire. He took a first step, thankfully, by inviting the Krabi activists to take a seat at the table. This is a welcome step, and one hopes it will end the string of disrespectful backhands given these serious people.

It is, however, a long way from recognising and dealing with the actual problem. The government's energy policy has been in most instances to simply extend the policies, methods and strategies of a different age. Thailand is no longer striving to enter the industrial age. Indeed, with proper leadership and careful, people-oriented policies, it can simply bypass that filthy, polluting era and enter the technological age.

It is disappointing to see Gen Prayut and Egat still insisting that either the country build a massive coal-burning plant or go dark. But there are numerous choices, and building a power plant on the lovely Krabi shoreline is the worst. The prime minister should listen carefully to the alternatives.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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