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Facing a natural gas shortage, Thailand looks to coal and hydropower

Greenpeace Thailand digs in to stop a coal-powered plant planned in Krabi province, best known for its pristine beaches and limestone cliffs.   © Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Southeast Asia

BANGKOK -- After nearly three decades as Thailand's primary source of energy, natural gas reserves in the Gulf of Thailand are running low. Dwindling supply is prompting the country's military-led government to propose a controversial shift to greater reliance on coal and imported hydroelectricity. A power development plan for 2015 to 2036, expected to be approved within three months, has also been criticized for suggesting that renewable sources should make up only a fifth of the future power mix.

     Thailand's Mineral Fuels Department announced in June that proven natural gas reserves in the Gulf stood at 8.4 trillion cubic feet -- equal to about seven years of power production at the current rate. Shortly afterwards, Energy Minister Narongchai Akrasanee announced plans to build three new coal powered plants. The plants are the first step toward reducing the current 70% reliance on gas for electricity generation to 40%. Coal fired generation would rise from 15% to 20-25% by 2036, with power from renewable sources rising from 6% to 22% and imports of hydropower from neighboring countries growing from 7% to 15-20%. Narongchai also announced the opening of new bids on offshore and onshore oil and gas concessions, to be finalized in February. The decision follows a seven year hiatus in granting concessions, although a debate over technical issues could cause further delays.

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