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A 'hidden agenda' in gas-supply

Govt stoking fears of power crisis to boost plan for plants in South: critics

The government has hijacked the public’s concerns over energy supplies in the coming hot season as part of a hidden agenda to build more environmentally unfriendly power plants in the South, conservationists said yesterday.

Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal said earlier that the ministry was preparing emergency measures for April to deal with an imminent shortage of power due to an expected disruption of gas supplies from Myanmar and Malaysia.

Regional environmental conservationist Witoon Permpongsacharoen, director of the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network, argued that the gas supply from Myanmar was just one-fourth of the Kingdom's total supply. The planned halt in the supply for pipeline maintenance would not be a power crisis in Thailand, he said.

"If the shortage of supply from Myanmar could create a crisis as the minister claims, there would be a serious problem in our national energy system," Witoon said.

Jintana Kaewkhao, leader of the Ban Krut Conservation Group, said Pongsak was simply exploiting fears of a power shortage to boost support for the government's plan to build more power plants.

On Saturday, Pongsak went on TV to warn the public of a possible power shortage in April as Myanmar would shut down its natural gas fields temporarily to fix drilling rigs, causing Thailand to lose access to 1,100 million cubic feet of natural gas.

The minister said Thailand had already lost access to 270 million cubic feet of natural gas through the Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline, but Chakree Buranakanon, vice president of PTT Plc's natural gas business unit, said the problem at the Thai-Malaysian pipeline had been fixed and supplies were normal.

"The consumption of power by Thais has not reached a crisis level yet. If a crisis occurred, it would affect large industrial projects, [rather than the general public]," Jintana said.

Witoon said the minister had stoked fears of a gas shortage to build support for the government's plan to build coal-fuelled power plants in the South.

The authority is now opening bids for six power plants to generate a combined 5,400 megawatts under the Independent Power Producers scheme, amid opposition from conservationists and southern residents in the areas where the plants would be located, he said.

Korn Kasiwat, a petroleum expert, said the closure of the gas fields in Myanmar would not affect the general public or household consumption.

Korn said the general public has been consuming petrol and diesel oil at a constant rate of about 73 million litres per day, while natural gas consumption is growing at a slow rate of 10 per cent per annum.

He said the shortage of natural gas would affect the petrochemical industry most because it uses 2.4 million tonnes of natural gas a year at a cheaper rate than is paid by the public. He said household consumption of cooking gas was 2.6 million tonnes a year, while vehicles used natural gas at a rate of 900,000 tonnes a year. The country has capacity to produce 3.5 million tonnes a year. He believed Pongsak expressed concern because the Energy Ministry might be planning to implement certain energy measures that would lead to price hikes.

Chakree Buranakanon, vice president of PTT Plc's natural gas business unit, told Nation Channel he believed Thailand would not experience a power-supply crisis.

Chakree said the short supply of natural gas would cause the power reserve to become low, which might prompt the government to believe that there is a risk of power instability in case of emergency.

He said Myanmar closed the fields to fix drilling rigs every year, but this year the closure would come early, starting on April 4 instead of during the Songkran holidays, when less gas is consumed. He said PTT would set up a "war room" to monitor the situation closely.


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