Egat steams ahead with critical Phuket power upgrade

Construction News

Power pylons surge above a village in northern Phuket. Photo: Tanyaluk Sakootf

Yet the move to upgrade Phuket’s power supply is critical, say officials from the Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand (Egat), with the island consuming more electricity with each passing year.

Phuket’s demand this year requires 391MW of electrical supply, Wichai Simadhamnand, Assistant Governor of Egat’s Transmission System Construction division, told a meeting in Phuket last week (June 18).

Egat predicts that Phuket will need 432MW of supply by next year. That number is expected to grow to 462MW in 2017, 494MW in 2018, 529MW in 2019, he said

However, currently supply to the island is delivered through a sole 115kV cable, and demand will outstrip supply by next year.

To stave off blackouts and brownouts across the island before demand outpaces supply, Egat is rolling out 230kV cable supply from Krabi via Phang Nga to Phuket under a project slated to cost B1.6 billion.

The “band-aid” boost in supply is to come ahead of a much grander plan to install a 500kV supply cable direct all the way from Jombung in Ratchaburi via Bang Sapan and Surat Thani direct to Phuket.

Expediency beyond law

That plan was announced on January 21, when Egat Deputy Director Phol Khawnnui arrived in Phuket to personally petition Governor Nisit Jansomwong for permission to start installing the pylons while waiting for the necessary construction permits.

That became a sticking point, as the project had not yet passed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) audits necessary in order to be granted permission to go ahead with the project.

Gov Nisit stuck to his guns, and gave the short message that he supported the project to cater to Phuket’s growing needs, but told the power officials to stick to the rules and get the permits required by law. (See story here.)

Abuzz with uncertainty

Since then, villagers have staged several protests at Phuket Provincial Hall, citing surveyors in their neighbourhoods scouting for appropriate places to install the monstrous power cables in the coming months.

More than 20 police, territorial defence volunteers and navy officers were called to Provincial Hall on June 11 to keep peace and order during one protest, where former Baan Para village headman, Samran Pandin, said that installing the 500kV power lines in a residential area had sparked many safety concerns among Pa Khlok and Para residents.

“The residents have no objection over the installation of new electricity power lines into Phuket Town, but installing the pylons in the area of Pa Khlok will limit residents’ safe access to land,” he said.

The pylons will be at least 60 metres high and this, residents believe, will cause land prices to drop.

Residents also believe that the pylons will send out cancer causing radiation and that it is possible some locals could even be electrocuted. (See story here.)

All quiet on whether or not the project has passed its EIAs, Mr Wichai in Phuket last week said, “Trees will be cut down where need be, and the land required to install the pylons will be expropriated at fair prices, in accordance with the law.”

The “fair prices”, however, will be sourced from the table of land values maintained by the local Land Office, which may not match the prices villagers might expect to gain if they sold their properties.

Change of plan

Back in January, Gov Nisit was under the impression that the new power supply cables will be installed alongside the current supply route, using many of the same pylons that deliver electricity to the island today.

But only since the villagers’ protests has it become clear that is not the case.

A 230kV will follow the current route only part way, then deviate along a “detour line” through Pa Khlok then rejoin the existing route just north of Phuket Town.

“This is only temporary,” Mr Wichai explained. “The 500kV cables will follow the existing route. Once the 500kV cables are installed, we can dismantle the pylons supporting the 230kV supply.

“But we must have the cables up and running, and delivering the electricity needed before we shut down the cables no longer needed.”