Protesters rejoice after coal 'victory'

Protesters rejoice after coal 'victory'

Govt puts off South projects 'for now'

Siri Jirapongphan, Minister of Energy, walked to the pavement sitdown site to inform protesters from the South that he had pushed back plans for coal-fired power plants at least until next year. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Siri Jirapongphan, Minister of Energy, walked to the pavement sitdown site to inform protesters from the South that he had pushed back plans for coal-fired power plants at least until next year. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urged supporters and protesters associated with the coal-fired power plant projects in two southern provinces to remain calm after the government decided to put the contentious projects on hold.

A fresh study on whether the plants are suitable for the areas destined to receive them will be undertaken to help decide whether they should be scrapped, officials said Tuesday.

"I have asked for an end to the protests, and they have asked me to consider their proposals. We will conduct a new environmental assessment with unbiased researchers, and start from scratch if necessary," Gen Prayut told the media after the cabinet meeting.

"The most important problem we must tackle is to consider what decisions we must make in order to not allow the cost of electricity to increase nationwide. The government has taken the demands of local people into consideration ... but please be patient with the process," he said.

"However, there are heavy infrastructure costs if we fail to implement these power plants. If we cannot build these power plants which lower the burden of energy distribution throughout the nation, we must draw energy from other places so please take this into consideration," Gen Prayut said.

The announcement came after Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan met Tuesday afternoon with protesters who had camped out in front of the United Nations office on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue in Bangkok.

Negotiations were held after the Civil Court dismissed a request by Nang Loeng police to ban the gathering.

The energy minister then signed an agreement with the protesters vowing to temporarily shelve the two projects.

One 800-megawatt plant was to scheduled to be built in Songkhla's Thepha district and the other 2,000MW one in Krabi province, with completion set for 2024-2025.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), which was contracted to develop both projects, has been instructed to withdraw its environmental health impact assessment (EHIA) for the two plants within three days.

The EHIA was submitted to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Onep) earlier for scrutiny.

Then, a new so-called strategic environmental assessment (SEA) will be conducted to determine whether the coal-fired power plants are suitable for the region and the areas.

The SEA study will be undertaken by academics handpicked by supporters and protesters, and will take nine months to complete.

If the study favours construction, "neutral" authorities will then conduct new EHIAs on the projects.

The agreement also saw authorities suspend all lawsuits against the protesters who dispersed after the agreement was announced.

Locals began returning home immediately, after 24 days of protest in the capital.

Madtayom Chaitem, 32-year-old villager from Thepha said the agreement is acceptable to a degree.

"Despite both projects not being scrapped as we demanded, new standards have been set. At least local people will have a chance to have their say by recruiting neutral experts to contribute to the SEAs."

As protesters returned home happy, another group of locals who support the construction of the coal plants threatened to travel to Bangkok too, and force the energy minister to reconsider the decision.

The group, calling itself "The Pattani-Songkhla Network", vowed to sue the energy minister for dereliction of duty, saying he should not have the authority to make agreements with protesters and should have let the cabinet and Egat make the final decision.

They called on the government to quickly complete the EHIA and the Environmental Impact Assessment so that renewed plans to construct the plants can be implemented.

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