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Publication Date : 20-02-2013
Myanmar will temporarily cut gas supplies in April, causing possible power cuts in Thailand; it's time we got serious about alternative energy and sustainable consumption habits
Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal will today call an urgent meeting to consider emergency measures to cope with a possible electricity supply shortage in April, when Myanmar temporarily suspends its natural gas supply to Thailand during the Songkran festival.
Pongsak warned that a shortage may result in power cuts in some areas, since Myanmar supplies roughly 20 per cent of the natural gas consumed in Thailand. However, some energy experts say the suspension of the natural gas supply from Myanmar should not result in power cuts because Thailand has sufficient reserves.
Nonetheless, the possible shortage should prompt the government and private sector to undertake planning to diversify sources of power. In addition, the government should initiate a campaign to raise awareness about energy conservation and efficient use. This will have the added benefit of saving money on imported energy.
Myanmar will suspend the supply of natural gas from the Yadana gas field from April 4-12 while maintenance work is under way. The reaction here shows that Thailand's planning to cope with unexpected incidents such as this is inadequate.
The timing of the suspension is inopportune. In April, energy consumption peaks due to the extremely hot weather. The Electricity Generating Authority forecasts that consumption could peak at 27,000 megawatts, compared to 26,000 megawatts in April last year. The suspension of service from Yadana will remove 6,000 megawatts from the grid, severely affecting homes, factories and businesses in western Thailand. The Ratchaburi Power Plant, for instance, will likely have to switch to other fuel sources, such as bunker oil.
The relevant agencies are discussing options to cope with possible shortages. They might ask department stores and government offices to switch off or reduce power consumption during certain periods. The Energy Ministry expects there may be "brown-outs" in some areas in order to avoid the disruption of a total blackout.
If some power plants like Ratchburi are forced to shift to more expensive fuel such as diesel, electricity bills could increase. Then there will be the question of who should carry the burden of the additional cost of electricity production. These measures will be short-term, but the temporary disruption should serve as a catalyst for the government to undertake sustainable energy planning and management.
Among Thailand's major sources of power are natural gas from Myanmar and hydropower from Laos. Supply disruptions are always possible, and, since the sources are outside Thailand, they are beyond our control. Thailand will thus have to diversify its energy sources to minimise adverse effects. Diversification to include eco-friendly forms such as solar and wind energy now needs to be seriously considered, not least to minimise the impact on the environment.
Energy authorities also need to discuss controversial forms of power, such as the atom and coal. In making decisions on whether or not to go this route, for safety or environmental reasons, there should be thorough studies to educate and inform the public of the advantages and disadvantages of both, instead of just ignoring the discussion.
The environmental aspects must be taken into consideration because energy consumption and ecological issues are closely related. The public should be engaged in the search for options and alternative energy sources.
The discussion on awareness needs to be publicised. During the critical time, the public should realise the necessity of saving energy. However, recent government policies seem to run counter to the energy-saving effort. The first-car subsidy scheme, for example, has only encouraged people to consume more fuel. One of the best ways is to make the public realise the real cost of energy consumption. Thus, the concept of "polluter pays" should also be incorporated into future energy-management plans, to instil awareness in the business sector and among the general public.