PM off-grid on power

PM off-grid on power

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has just told his Energy Ministry to do the wrong thing, in the wrong way and at the wrong time. He wants the ministry to forget about renewable and alternative energy sources, and get on with increasing electricity output by using fossil fuels.

This comes exactly as the premier and his government try to press their plans to build coal-fired power plants in the South.

It is a remarkably short-sighted policy that not only aims to marginalise the vast majority of citizens and the work of an already faltering ministry, but actually poses a risk to the country.

Gen Prayut's order to the Energy Ministry has a single point - and it is questionable. If the country switches to alternative energy sources to produce electricity, he stated last week, electricity bills will go up.

He made no other argument in intimating a halt to further development of renewable energy. His argument is deeply flawed - if the country sticks with fossil fuels, halts all work on alternative energy and approves more coal-fired plants, electricity bills will go up anyway. They always do.

All of this and more took place last week at a key meeting of the National Energy Policy Council (NEPC), held at Government House and chaired by Gen Prayut.

The group locked into place a wildly deficient and disappointing 20-year master document, illogically called the Energy Efficiency Plan (EEP).

It provides almost no efficiency, reduces national energy security and gives the distinct impression that Thailand's entire energy programme should remain fixed and set in the 20th century.

To be fair, the EEP has a section on alternative energy. Sort of. It approves a programme already in place to develop more electricity production from biomass and biogas. It restricts this, however, to the three southernmost provinces and parts of Songkhla. (Strangely, this is precisely the area of the southern insurgency.)

In this same region, very small power producers will be allowed to produce 50 megawatts of power to be fed into the national grid. In addition, the Krabi power plant will adjust its machinery to use 20% biogas instead of the current 10%, using palm oil. And that is it for alternative power in the nation's official, 20-year master energy policy.

Where most countries, including our Asean neighbours, have entire plans to research, develop, encourage and promote alternative energy, the prime minister has specifically discouraged these efforts.

Gen Prayut, in his role as chairman of the NEPC, has effectively taken national programmes on alternative energy off the table for the foreseeable future.

All of this is happening during a national debate on the subject. The government is doing its best to sideline national opinion and ignore local communities as it pushes forward on the worst possible option to expand electricity supplies -- coal-fired power plants, beginning in Krabi and Songkhla provinces. Several mean methods are being adopted, among them the specious claim that supplies of natural gas "are running out".

It now appears that only a public outcry can recapture this vital issue of national well-being and survival. The government has clearly committed to a reactionary energy policy.

We need a national debate on alternative, renewable and sustainable energy sources, not a top-down rejection.

While others search for viable methods to meet energy demands, Thailand is about to be caught napping. More research and adoption of policies to throw off fossil fuels should be the government's obligation. The cost of failure will be far more than modest rises in electricity bills.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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