Fear 56mw plant linked to potash mine will ruin the environment
PEOPLE from Chaiyaphum’s Bamnet Narong district have lodged complaints with the embassies of five Asean nations in Bangkok to press for the scrapping of the plan to set up a coal-fired power plant in their hometown.
Rallying under the banner of the Bamnet Narong Conservation Group, local people urged Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei, to help scrap the project – because these countries were directly involved in it.
“We will lodge a complaint with the Central Administrative Court too,” the group’s vice chair Bunn Phongphituck said yesterday.
He said his group was fighting the plan to set up the 56-megawatt power plant in their hometown because of environmental concerns.
“Pollution will upset the lives of local people. It will affect their water sources,” he said.
Bunn was deeply worried that the power plant would go ahead, as the final public-participation forum for the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) is due to be held on December 17.
His group is convinced local people need to clearly express their stance now.
Emerging information suggests the power plant will operate in Bamnet Narong district to support potash mining there. This district is designated as a zone for potash mining and processing plants under the Asean Industrial Project for Thailand, which was unveiled in 1989. The project is going ahead with cooperation among the Asean member states under a cooperation agreement signed in 1976.
In 1991, Asean Potash Mining Co was established with Asean member countries holding shares with 29 per cent of the total value.The Thai Finance Ministry held 20 per cent of the total value, while the remaining 51 per cent was held by the private sector.
In 2004, the company changed its status to a public company limited with a new investor, who later filed an application for a mining concession in a total area of about 9,707 rai (3,883 acres) in Ban Tan, Ban Phet and Hua Thale subdistricts in Bamnet Narong district, Chaiyaphum province.
On February 16 this year, this public firm won a licence from the Industry Ministry. It expected to complete the construction of its facilities within three years, using an investment budget of Bt40 billion. Once completed, it would have the capacity to produce 1.1 million tonnes of potash a year.
While many locals have backed the upcoming potash mining operation, they do not agree with the coal-fired power plant project. “Even those who support the potash mining have been reconsidering their stance, because they can’t accept the power plant,” Sompon Santisampan, from the Bamnet Narong Conservation Group, said.
Varathep Thanarong, a 56-year-old resident of Bamnet Narong, lamented the firm had refused to listen to local people’s opinions. “We have recommended that the power plant rely on solar cell or natural gas – but to no avail,” he said.
Abhichati Sayasinchana, the firm’s vice president for operations, said separately that various options had been studied but a coal-fired power plant and co-generation system emerged as the best choice. “We need hot vapour for ore processing. We also need a constant and continued flow of the vapour,” he said.
Natural gas was out of question, he said, as PTT would not lay down long pipelines just to connect to his firm’s planned power plant, which was relatively small. “And even if PTT agreed to lay down the pipelines, installations would affect a number of people,” he said.
Asked why his firm could not simply buy electricity from available providers, Abhichati said that option would raise the operating cost several-fold.
Varathep, meanwhile, said he had learnt firsthand from locals affected by the coal-fired power plant in Lampang, and thus would definitely fight any plan to set up such a power plant near his home. “They have told me about uneatable fish and fields that they have had to abandon because of contaminated crops,” he said. And if the power plant was established it would take much of the Bamnet Narong’s limited water supply.
Sungwan Kingpalad, another resident, said she didn’t want a power plant near her home. “I don’t care how many times I will have to come to Bangkok to oppose this project. I only know that I will fight against this project to the end, because I don’t want bad things to happen to my hometown.”
Abhichati said his firm had constantly communicated with locals, including opponents, and set up a tripartite committee, chaired by the Chaiyaphum governor, in a bid to patch up any differing opinions. “Some opponents are not cooperative and don’t try to open their mind. But definitely, we will not give up our efforts to make them understand.”