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Economy

Facing opposition to coal, Thailand moving to greener power

Local activists thwart government plans to build more conventional plants

A project to build a coal-fired power plant in Thailand's southern Krabi Province has stalled.

BANGKOK -- The Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand aims to quadruple the country's renewable energy generating capacity versus 2015 to 2 million kilowatts by 2036.

EGAT is putting greater emphasis on renewables in its long-term strategy, partly due to opposition from people living near the planned site for large coal-fired power stations in the south of the country.

The move is part of a broader trend toward reducing dependence on coal in emerging economies.

EGAT is expected to submit the long-term energy plan to a government advisory panel for approval sometime this month. Paruhus Vongthanet, the authority's deputy governor, has already unveiled the outline of a plan to build power stations that use renewable energy sources, together with partner companies.

The outline calls for 900,000kW of generating capacity from solar power, 598,000kW from biomass and 230,000kW from wind by 2036. In 2015, Thailand had 171,250kW of generating capacity from solar, 8,000kW from biomass and 168,000kW from wind.

The latest plan calls for a significant increase in power generation from solar and biomass. The plan, if approved, will likely create opportunities for foreign companies, such as Chinese solar panel makers.

The Thai government expects the country's electricity demand to grow. It aims to nearly double the power supply from 2014 levels to 70.33 million kilowatts by 2036. New coal-fired power plants were to be a pillar of that expansion. But with the fate of the plants now unclear, EGAT has been forced to place a bigger bet on renewable energy.

The authority had wanted to build an 800,000kW coal-fired plant in the southern province of Krabi and another with a capacity of 2 million kilowatts in Songkla Province, also in the south. Both were to use coal imported from Indonesia and elsewhere. In July last year, EGAT solicited preliminary bids for the rights to build the Krabi plant, granting the project to a Chinese-Thai business consortium.

But local residents and community groups concerned about damage to the environment opposed the project. To avoid a clash, Thailand's military junta, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, ordered EGAT to conduct a second environmental assessment of the project, effectively halting construction of the plant.

One industry official believes EGAT may be factoring in the possibility that no new coal-fired plants will be built.

Thailand relies on plants fueled by natural gas to meet 60% of the country's electricity needs. But domestic resources are expected to dwindle, forcing the government to review its long-term energy mix. That led to the plan to build relatively cheap coal-fired power plants.

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