New Thai minister shuns Salween hydro, looks to Laos

Thai Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, part of the cabinet installed after a military coup overturned Thailand’s government in September, has put off plans to build hydropower projects with neighboring Myanmar.

However, Piyasvasti foresees increased purchases of hydropower from another neighbor, Laos.

Piyasvasti, an expert who quit the Energy Ministry in 2003 in a policy disagreement with the government of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, also dropped the previous administration’s plan to plant vast tracts of oil palms to make uneconomic biodiesel fuel. Instead, he said he would boost the use of renewable fuels in power production.

Piyasvasti said he was not even going to think about Thaksin’s pact with Myanmar to build the 1,200-MW Hutgyi hydroelectric project, the first of five dams proposed for the Salween River bordering the two nations. The plan is opposed by environmentalists and Myanmar’s ethnic groups.

Late last year, state-owned Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) said it would sign a memorandum with its Myanmar counterpart to build Hutgyi in Myanmar’s Karen State near the northern Thai town of Mae Sot. (HNN 12/29/05) EGAT planned to build at least five hydro projects with a combined capacity of 11,800 MW along the 2,800-kilometer Salween River, which rises in Tibet as the Nu River and flows through Myanmar to the Andaman Sea. (HNN 6/13/06)

Salween dam �still far away�

“The Salween dam is still far away,” Piyasvasti said. “We don’t need to think about it for now.”

Analysts said the post-coup interim government of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont seems intent on keeping a greater distance from Myanmar’s military rulers than Thaksin, who was often generous to the junta.

Piyasvasti, a London-educated economist and mathematician, said Thailand’s first power tender in a decade, to build between 12,000 and 13,000 MW, is due to be held by March 2007, as planned by the previous government.

“We hope to sort out all the overhanging issues and make the tender terms ready by the first quarter of next year,” Piyasvasti said.

The ministry was adjusting power demand and supply forecasts in the new tender for independent power producers, the first since 1995, because the economy did not grow as much as the Thaksin government anticipated, he said.

Piyasavasti said his ministry would have to decide how much capacity EGAT and its affiliates would be allowed to build and the proportions of fuels used in power generation in the new tender.

Thailand seeks to double purchase of Laos hydro

In the original plan, 20 percent of new generation was to come from hydropower, mostly in neighboring Laos, and 80 percent was to be split between natural gas and coal, Piyasvasti said.

He said Thailand would have to look to Laos for more power, aiming to double its purchase of Laotian hydropower to 3,000 MW. A plan to raise coal use to 40 percent from 17 percent now was ambitious, but doable, he added.

Accelerated use of renewable energy by small power producers also could reduce the new power supply expected for the 2011 2015 period, Piyasvasti said. He referred to a tender to buy power from small producers, set for November, that would give better incentives to plants using renewable fuel.

“If we have many small power producers that use renewable energy coming to sell electricity to us, we won’t need as many large power plants as we have planned for,” he said.

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