Protests against the Krabi coal-fired power plant are on indefinite hold for now, as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha promises a brand new start on two environmental impact reports, and this time with public participation. (Bangkok Post photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has insisted that new environmental and health impact assessments are needed for the Krabi coal-fired power plant project and the public must be allowed to have their say.
Speaking after Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Gen Prayut stressed the need to restart the environmental health impact assessment (EHIA) and environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the controversial power plant project from the beginning.
He added that all sectors must be allowed to take part in the processes with forums to be opened to listen to the public's views on energy issues.
The prime minister ordered the scrapping of the suspended EHIA and EIA processes carried out by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) for the coal-fired power plant project on Monday.
On Tuesday, he said he instructed the Energy Ministry and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to work together to build better public understanding of what future fuel source is best suited for the country.
Gen Prayut also said that the forums will not focus on issues relating to the controversial coal-fired power plant so as to avoid any conflicts.
"A new power plant will certainly be built, but how? We have to take a look at what is good, safe and can deal with power shortages in order to ensure power security. There must be a balance between fossil fuels and recyclable energy," the prime minister said.
He stressed that both an EHIA and EIA are required by law and whenever there are any new projects that will likely affect the environment and public health, they must be carried out in accordance with the laws governing the concerned ministries.
"Don't raise any new issues. So many people have so much information. So, let's check it out to see which is true or not, otherwise this will cause a great deal of confusion. I am trying to build trust between state officials and the private sector," Gen Prayut said.
Government spokesman, Sansern Kaewkamnerd, said earlier that the prime minister issued the order out of concern that without the cancellation, there might be some serious issues in regards to public participation in deciding which fuel source was best suited for the controversial project.
Gen Prayut instructed the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Onep) to write to the Energy Ministry, in order to inform Egat to formally to scrap both the EIA and the EHIA processes, according to the spokesman.
They had been put on hold due to growing opposition to the use of coal to fuel the planned power plant in Krabi. Critics fear major negative effects on the environment.
The prime minister's order followed some apparent confusion over whether the two assessments should resume from where they left off, or be re-started entirely.
Egat governor Kornrasit Pakchotanon said that Egat has acknowledged the letter from Onep, and added that Egat was ready to comply with the prime minister's order to cancel both the EIA and EHIA, and conduct new ones.
He said that Egat was aware of the prime minister's concerns about the issue regarding local residents' participation in the EIA and the EHIA.
He added that Egat has assigned its relevant departments to brainstorm and adjust all aspects about how to conduct the new EIA and EHIA, which will focus more on the participation of local villagers and communities.
"Egat is a government agency and we are ready to act on the government's order. We are preparing to conduct the new EIA and EHIA processes," said Mr Kornrasit.
Deputy Egat governor Saharath Boonpotipukdee said that new EIA and EHIA studies will be carried out based on a resolution made by the the National Energy Policy Committee that both the studies must include opinions from a tripartite committee.
In light of this, Mr Saharath said that the tripartite committee is likely to be invited to take part in the the EIA and EHIA processes, which require three rounds of gathering views, from the beginning.
The committee, comprising representatives of state agencies, including Egat, the National Legislative Assembly, and power plant protesters, was set up on Dec 17, 2015 to study the problem when anti-coal gatherings in Bangkok reached their peak.
He said that if the processes are to start anew, they are expected to take at least two and a half years to complete, which means the Krabi coal-fired power plant will be delayed to 2024 from the original schedule of 2019.
Given the circumstances, Mr Saharath said that it is up to the Energy Ministry to consider how to adjust the country's power development plan between 2015-2036.
However, he insisted that a new power plant is still needed in the South to deal with the region's insufficient electricity generation, in addition to demands for power which continue to increase by 4-5%.
The Energy Ministry will decide whether a power plant run on liquefied natural gas should be constructed as a substitute, Mr Saharath added.
Prasitchai Nunual, coordinator of the Save Andaman from Coal network, welcomed Egat's decision to back down on the assessments.
He said the EHIA and EIA studies must be carried out under "new rules", especially under a special committee to ensure transparency and meaningful participation from locals.