A controversy over a YouTube video which showed the fundraising effort and solar cell donation by net idol Pimrypie, or Pimradaporn Benjawattanapat, has shed light on the relatively unknown village of Ban Mae Kerb -- a village just like thousands other villages in the North which has yet to be connected to the state's electricity grid.
Her gesture of goodwill, however, attracted a firestorm of criticism from detractors who saw her campaign as a ploy to discredit Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for ignoring the plight of this remote village.
The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), which provides solar cells to remote villages, also received its share of criticism for forgetting the destitute community. In response, the unit -- which oversaw a 45-million-baht solar power project in Chiang Mai's Omkoi district -- said Ban Mae Kerb was not connected to the grid as it was not included on official registries.
According to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Ban Mae Kerb -- with its 177 ethnic Karen residents across 41 families -- is considered a new community. Data from the Energy Policy and Planning Office shows the village is among the 8,000 communities in the North which still have no access to electricity.
In total, 0.2% of 24.11 million households across the country are still disconnected from the national power grid. Most of these households are located in remote areas, which include small islands and mountains, or prohibited land, such as military property, national parks and wildlife reserves.
ON STATE LAND
A source close to the matter told the Bangkok Post that it will be some time before Ban Mae Kerb can be connected to the state's power grid, as the village is not a part of the Provincial Electricity Authority's (PEA) electricity expansion plan.
PEA is planning to spend 6.5 billion baht to bring electricity into 141,960 homes across the country by the end of next year, and install solar panels in four remote villages -- Ban Samong in Tak, Ban Khok Chang in Nakhon Ratchasima, Ban Moo 8 in Chanthaburi and Ban Kaojao in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
Ban Mae Kerb, the official said, is not on the list because the village was built on state land, and the PEA has never received a request to install electricity there.
"Even if the village was built on private property, the investment for a transmission facility there will be too costly," the official said.
According to the PEA, the cost of connecting a village to the grid starts at 75,000 baht per registered home. "The cost of connecting [Ban Mae Kerb] could be up to 100 times that," the official said.
That said, as the needs of rural communities are different from urban households, the cost of providing electricity may not be as expensive as estimated.
Sakda Jongkaewwattana, an activist with the Chiang Mai-based Research and Development for Quality of Life Foundation, told the Bangkok Post on Jan 13 while there are many villages still without electricity in the North, this does not necessarily mean they want it so they can use appliances such as refrigerators and televisions.
Mr Sakda said when state agencies plan to help villages like Ban Mae Kerb, they tend to "think big" -- installing costly solar panels, often up to 220 volts.
According to the retired associate professor of Chiang Mai University, 12 volts is enough for villagers to go about their daily routine.
"That's why I can spend my own money installing a solar panel for a family. It only cost around 1,000 baht," he said.