Subsidy unlikely to cover cost of switching to Napier grass: producer
The "feed-in tariff" subsidy of about Bt4.50 per kilowatt-hour unit to power plants that will use Napier grass as a feedstock might not be attractive enough to woo major power-plant operators, said one major biogas producer.
Thai Biogas Energy's chief operating officer Pajon Sriboonruang said recently that the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency recently discussed the plan to promote the use of Napier grass with interested companies. But most major power plants viewed that the tariff is too low to cover the cost of installing equipment to filter out carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide from the Napier-based biogas, which is needed in order to meet the high standard production practice.
Moreover, to have an economy of scale, the plant operators should have production capacity of between 3 megawatts and 5MW, which means they will require a vast Napier plantation field of at least 3,000 rai. It is difficult for the producers to procure such vast land plots. A scholar of Chiang Mai University's Engineering Faculty, who declined to be named, said the tariff of Bt4.50 per unit might encourage small firms to rush in to produce biogas from Napier grass, and he is concerned that they might try to reduce costs by declining to install the necessary standard equipment at the plants.
He said that the government has yet to issue a law to make it compulsory for a producer of biogas to install the sulphur dioxide filter equipment at the plants.
Napier grass, originally from Africa, is also known as Uganda grass or elephant grass, as it a favourite food of elephants. The grass can be grown in many parts of Thailand, especially in areas currently used as sugar-cane and tapioca plantations in the Northeast and Central regions, provided they are situated not too far from the power grid.
The National Energy Policy Council agreed last week to support the production of electricity from green vegetables. The feed-in-tariff subsidy is about Bt4.50 per kilowatt-hour unit for a period of 20 years to power plants that use Napier grass supplied by local communities.
The Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency's deputy director-general, Twarath Sutabutr, said the department would impose a stricter safety standard on
production of biogas from Napier grass.
He noted that accidents at biogas plants are less the result of poor design standards than of human error, with workers failing to operate the plants according to the manuals.
The department will pilot the production of biogas from Napier grass.
It will select three pilot locations for planting the grass, and will establish one power plant with capacity of 1MW at a cost of Bt100 million. The plant needs 1,000 rai of the grass per 1MW of capacity.
Recently the Energy Ministry said it targets production of 100MW from this grass within two years.