The latest anti-coal protest in southern Thailand’s Nakhon si Thammarat Province has put further pressure on the country’s coal-fueled energy industry, which will reportedly build a power plant in Burma where it hopes to find a more receptive environment.
On Thursday, 10,000 residents of Tha Sala District in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province formed a “human chain” as a symbol of their determination to protect their district from the coal-fueled power plant slated to be built by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT),” according to a press release by the protest organizer, Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
“To avoid the disastrous consequences of a coal powered future, the government must embrace an energy revolution—a massive uptake of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies,” said Chariya Senpong, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “This is what the communities in Nakhon Si Thammarat and across Thailand are demanding and what the Thai government should instead deliver.”
Greenpeace, which is an independent global environmental campaigning organization, started its anti-coal campaign across Thailand in 2000. The organization has been actively carrying out anti-coal protests and activities to educate people about the negative environmental consequences of using coal powered energy and to persuade the government and businesses to stop using “dirty energy” in Thailand.
As a result of the strong protests against the use of coal-fired power plants inside the country, Thailand is reportedly looking to build a power plant in the Burmese town of Tavoy on the southern Tenesserim coastline.
According to the conceptual plans of the Italian-Thai Development Public Company Ltd., which has been given a 60-year construction grant by the Burmese junta to establish a deep-sea port and industrial estates in Tavoy, Thailand will build a 4,000 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant—the largest in Southeast Asia—on the Maungmagan beach.
The electricity generated by this power plant, which will be 100 percent owned by Thailand, will be used both for export to Thailand and to supply the electricity demand of the new industrial estates in Tavoy.
In the absence of a strong environmental conservation movement or civil society to educate the people of Burma and to challenge businesses that lack corporate social responsibility, the construction of the power plant will likely proceed and could in the future pose an environmental threat to the Burmese communities in Tavoy.
Environmental activists say that the Burmese residents of Tavoy can look to Thailand’s experience with coal-fired power plants to understand the risks involved.
“Coal plants in Thailand are notorious polluters. Mae Moh in Lampang province is considered to be the worst of its kind in Asia, causing sickness and disease as well as lost livelihoods,” said the Green Peace press release. “BLCP and GHECO-I, both in Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong province, are no different.”
Mae Moh coal plant is located in Thailand’s northern region while BLCP and GHECO-I are located on the country’s eastern seaboard.
Mae Moh started its operation in 1978 with a capacity of 75 MW. But when it reached its maximum capacity of 2,625 MW in 1996, the environmental and public health issues in the communities located around the power plant also increased dramatically.
More than 30,000 residents in the Mae Moh area have been displaced and thousands have suffered from severe respiratory problems. The surrounding crops and farmlands were affected by air-born ash from the power plant, as well as by acid rain, which is attributed to sulfuric dioxide released by the coal power plant, according to Greenpeace reports.
Moreover, Map Ta Phut industrial estates—which are very similar to the design of Tavoy industrial estates in terms of geographical layout as well as the types of industries utilizing the estates—have been affected by serious environmental and health problems.
“Recently, GHECO-I coal plant has been included in the list of harmful industries requiring mandatory environmental and health impact assessment,” said Greenpeace in its press release.
In 2009, Thailand’s Supreme Administrative Court suspended new construction of the 65 industrial factories in Map Ta Phut after the local residents filed a lawsuit against the Thai government.