Ministries hit for 'causing panic' over gas suspension
Myanmar shutdown known since December: ex-energy minister Piyasvasti
Former energy minister Piyasvasti Amranand has lambasted the Energy and Industry ministries for causing panic among the public in light of Myanmar's decision to suspend the supply of natural gas to Thailand during part of April.
"There is no reason for them to cry foul about a gas shortage as they are doing now, because the supply halt has been known about since December. This has already been factored into the fuel tariff [FT] for the January-April round," said the man who spent years of service at the Energy Ministry.
"On the other hand, both ministries should rush to clear all bottlenecks that delay alternative-energy licensing, as this could prevent a shortage in the long term," he said.
In an interview with The Nation, Piyasvasti said that if licensing procedures at both ministries had been carried out in line with protocol and without any politicians' involvement in the past two years, Thailand could have welcomed an extra 1,000 megawatts of power from many alternative-energy projects.
He was referring to some of the 600 projects with a combined capacity of 4,000MW, a figure that includes some non-feasible projects. With power purchase agreements, feasible projects can go ahead as soon as they receive a licence from the Industry Ministry.
Meanwhile, he said the Energy Ministry should welcome new alternative-energy projects, given delays in the construction of large-scale projects that would be powered by either natural gas or coal, or even nuclear fuel. Thanks to technology and increasing oil prices, the generating cost for solar power now matches that for diesel, at Bt8-Bt9 per kilowatt-hour, he added.
He insisted that fuel diversification was essential, given the Kingdom's 70-per-cent reliance on natural gas for electricity generation. The risk of a power shortage will persist if structural problems are not solved to maximise the benefits of the Power Development Plan.
Piyasvasti criticised the Energy Ministry for exaggerating the problem caused by Myanmar's temporary shutdown of the Yadana gas field in early April, arguing that all agencies had plans to deal with emergencies.
For example, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) can impose the "interruptible" rate for factories, offering an incentive power rate in return for the right to cut supply upon 15 minutes' notice.
"The plan is there to follow. There is no reason to complain. I don't know if they lack knowledge to handle this or they have other reasons to cry out loud for something that could be tackled," he said. "It's not that they only just found out about the gas-supply halt."
The energy authorities have been criticised for causing panic to win public endorsement for the construction of new coal-fired power plants. Piyasvasti said they should not take advantage of the current situation and should instead work on proper ways to win public approval for these plants.
He also lamented that the measures announced to date to cope with the upcoming supply halt merely addressed temporary problems, and that some - like adjusting air-conditioning temperatures - were matters for demand-side management that should be carried out in regular programmes.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday ordered adjustment of Government House's air-conditioning temperature, to set an example for all government units. The temperature is to be raised from 23 degrees Celsius to 25. The government will also launch a nationwide energy-saving campaign at Government House on April 13.
At a meeting yesterday, the Energy Ministry came up with a number of new plans, such as having Egat consult with factories over the imposition of the interruptible rate. Four factories in the South - belonging to TPI Polene, Siam City Cement and Thai Asahi - will shut down their plants during the supply-halt period, to save a combined 50MW.
Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal, meanwhile, said that Total E&P Myanmar, the operator of the Yadana gas field, had agreed to delay the halt in gas supply by one day, to April 5.
As some factories will be closed on April 5, this will help boost the power reserve from 600MW to 750MW and reduce the volume of bunker oil for electricity generation by 26 million litres and that of diesel by 15 million litres, he said.
The volume of bunker oil to be consumed during the gas-suspension period will be 86 million litres and that of diesel 47 million litres.
Pongsak acknowledged that the authorities had been notified of the maintenance shutdown some time ago. As a result, he said, the government could not press end users to shoulder the extra cost deriving from the use of more expensive fuels.
He also implied, however, that the general public would have to shoulder higher power bills, as switching to diesel and bunker oil could raise the FT by 0.48 satang per unit. Piyasvasti had earlier demanded that the authorities help absorb the cost.
Pongsak could not guarantee there would be no blackouts in all parts of Thailand during the supply suspension. Reserves, which at 600MW are the lowest ever, will only gradually rise to the normal level of 3,000MW after April 5, he said.
Meanwhile, Industry Ministry permanent secretary Vitoon Simachokdee yesterday denied an allegation that the ministry was stalling factory permits, saying that it had to conduct thorough scrutiny to ensure projects had no adverse environmental impacts on nearby communities.
The assessment committee is currently considering 13 alternative-energy projects involving solar and biomass, and should finish the task this week, he said.