EARTH Thailand

Academics object to ‘expensive’ US coal purchase

The Nation 04 October 2017 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

ACADEMICS AND activists have cast doubt over the coal purchasing contract between Thailand and the United States, claiming it is too expensive, domestic coal demand is low and the deal breaches the country’s pledge to contain greenhouse gas emissions.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said yesterday that during Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s official visit to the US, Thailand had agreed to buy 50,000–60,000 tonnes of coal from the US.

Both environmental activists and academics have expressed that the deal was both illogical and contrary to global efforts to mitigate climate change.

Tara Buakamsri of Greenpeace South East Asia said that while it was not a surprise for Prayut and US President Donald Trump to have signed such an agreement, the deal would harm Thailand and international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was also strange from a business point of view.

“I still have not seen the details of this deal yet but it is sure to be a huge reverse on global efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels and against the global trend that has been moving on toward renewable energy,” Tara said.

“President Trump has made it clear that it is his policy to bring back the US coal industry to its former glory and this is one of his plans – but in my opinion he cannot resist the global renewable energy trend, and this will harm our country’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint.”

Trump had earlier pledged during his election campaign to revive the US coal industry and regenerate employment in the industry.

Tara said signing the sales agreement with Thailand was indicative of Trump seizing his chance to further his pro-fossil fuel and it would give Thailand a bad name on the international stage, as we had given promise on Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He also said he believed the deal would be overly expensive because the coal would have to be shipped across the Pacific Ocean and the logistic costs would be enormous compared with coal from Indonesia or Australia, which are good quality and much closer to home.

Chulalongkorn University’s Energy Research Institute director Kulayos Udomwongseri agreed with Tara that the deal might not be good business, pointing to the high transport costs and the low demand for coal in Thailand.

“This deal would only be worth it if the coal from the US was very high quality,” Kulayos said. “Then it would be worth spending a lot of money transporting it across the Pacific Ocean – but Thailand already gets quality coal from Indonesia and Australia.”

Moreover, he pointed out that Thailand’s own coal-fired power plants already had their own supply. In fact, many even had contracts to supply coal to overseas buyers.

Therefore, he said the government should carefully reconsider this purchase agreement with the US.