EARTH Thailand

Scepticism greets govt plan to shelve Thepha plant

The Nation 31 January 2018

About 10 protesters sit on the footpath opposite Government House in Bangkok yesterday in prayer vigil urging the government to permanently scrap the coalfired Thepha power plant.

THE GOVERNMENT plans to shelve the proposed project to build the coal-fired Thepha power plant in Songkhla province, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday.

However, while the prime minister described the imminent suspension as showing that his government was listening to the voice of the people, activists were far from impressed.

“The suspension is not enough. What we want is the complete cancellation of the project,” Direk Hemnakhon said yesterday in his capacity as a coordinator for the Network of Songkhla-Pattani People against the Coal-Fired Power Plant.

A study commissioned by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand showed that the project would cause serious social, health and environmental impacts, he said.

Direk is among 16 activists being sued for allegedly flouting laws during their protest against the planned power plant late last year, including charges that they harmed state officials. 

“State officials received just minor injuries. Our side suffered more,” Direk said.

The clash between officials and protesters against the planned plant took place on November 27 during the protesters’ march to the venue of a mobile Cabinet meeting. 

Following the clash, 16 activists were arrested and prosecuted. 

Now free on bail, the activists have to report to the provincial Songkhla Court on March 11. 

The network recently submitted a petition to Prayut asking him to review the project and end legal proceedings against the activists.

“We don’t want to travel to the court over and over again. It takes so much time and it is not good for local people,” Direk said. 

Prayut said the suspension of the project was probable as he had instructed Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan to look into the petition from the network. 

 “As far as I know, this project will be suspended,” he said. 

He said the project could be shelved for a period of time as Siri believed there were possible short-term solutions to solve problems related to power shortages in the South. 

“But in the long run, we have to find long-term solutions,” he said. 

Prayut said opponents of the project should also think about the need to ensure energy security.

Asked about legal proceedings against the activists, Prayut said the case had already gone to court. 

“But we will be ready to provide assistance and help ensure justice,” he said. 

Ekachai Isarata, one of the activists being prosecuted and a leader of the Network of Songkhla-Pattani People, said earlier he was not afraid of legal trouble. 

“I will continue opposing the construction of the power plant even if that means I will face legal action,” he said. 

While Ekachai’s network has many supporters, the planned power plant project has also engendered strong community support.