The Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro) said Wednesday that 16 wind farm projects located on Sor Por Kor government land are legal and can continue as planned.
The much-awaited decision clears the way for wind farm developers to continue their multi-billion-baht investment in the renewable projects.
Sompong Inthong, Alro's secretary-general, said the investigation by related authorities found that all the wind farm projects followed Alro's regulations, which state that the benefits generated from the land must be paid to the farmers, meaning they were earned from an agricultural purpose.
A dispute emerged earlier this year when the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that it was inappropriate to rent out Sor Por Kor land in Chaiyaphum, which had been designated for farming purposes, to build wind farms. It further ordered the revocation of a licence to develop a wind farm there.
That ruling immediately raised concerns among other wind farm developers about whether their licences could be revoked, prompting them to suspend investment in renewable energy projects.
When the court ruled last month that the Thep Sathit Wind Farm Co project violated the law on Sor Por Kor land use and ordered it to suspend operations, the Agricultural Land Reform Committee (ALRC) immediately set up a panel, which now has wound up its study.
The panel concluded the 16 current wind farms, excepting the one sanctioned by the court, were legal and unaffected by the court's ruling.
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Gen Chatchai Sarikulya said it concluded the case presents no threat to the overall development of wind farms.
He told a press conference on Wednesday that Alro has full authority to allow any people who are not farmers or farming organisations to use the land as long as they meet the condition of enabling certain land reform benefits.
Meanwhile, the ministerial regulation says that non-farmers who rent the land can do so as long as it helps improve the living condition of farmers both socially and economically.
Gen Chatchai said Alro also found that the 16 companies have not violated the terms of the ALRC's regulations in terms of land rental.
Moreover, the 16 companies were acting in strict accordance with the regulation by paying farmers 35,000 baht per year per rai, he said.
"Before making a final decision on the matter, we will consider whether farmers will benefit from Alro's land reform projects or not," he said.
"It is clear that they really have received benefits from our projects," he said, adding this was based on labour hiring activities in those areas, improvement to public infrastructure and water sources, and the development of tourism-related activities.
Mr Sompong said development of Thepsathit Wind Farm in Nakhon Ratchasima remains halted because it is a separate case in which a group of villagers filed a lawsuit against the developer and requires a court ruling.
SET-listed Energy Absolute Plc (EA), a renewable power generator, said it would continue its 20-billion-baht investment to run a 260-megawatt wind farm in Chaiyaphum province as planned.
Omsin Siri, vice-president for corporate communications, said EA will seek a loan because construction is due to start this year, with a goal of operations starting in the second quarter of 2018.
She said the company invested about 40 million baht for design and preparation of the project.
Mrs Omsin said EA aims to increase its renewable power generation committed to state utilities to 664MW by 2018, well above 278MW last year.
The additional capacity is expected from new projects in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Songkhla provinces to come online this year with 126MW from each, and other new projects.
EA's first renewable energy project was an 8MW solar farm in Lop Buri in 2012. Its total power-generating capacity rose to 188MW in 2015 and 278MW in 2016.