Thai government gets tough over power use

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - The Thai government is ramping up energy-saving measures encompassing both government units and private organisations to help avert a possible blackout due to a scheduled disruption in the supply of natural gas from Myanmar.

The moves will be announced today after an emergency meeting at the Energy Ministry, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said.

The Cabinet yesterday approved in principle a policy encouraging energy-saving measures at state agencies, on business premises and in households, as the halt in natural gas delivery from Myanmar will mean the loss of 1,100 million cubic feet per day (mcfpd) from April 4-12. All government units have been told to keep electricity bills at 10 per cent of total expenditures, or face a cut in other expenditure.

The Energy Ministry has been assigned to monitor the daily use of power, petrol and electricity starting today and continuing into April, when Myanmar's Yadana gas field will be shut down for drilling-rig maintenance.

Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal has been assigned to negotiate with Myanmar to try to postpone the maintenance by a few days to coincide with the Songkran festival, when power consumption by the industrial sector usually drops.

PTT senior executive vice president Chakree Buranakanon said the company, as a partner in the Yadana gas field, has negotiated with operator Total several times seeking a postponement of the shutdown. A delay of three or four days would ease the situation, he said, as power consumption usually declines during Songkran.

As a short-term measure, PTT plans to raise gas output from the Gulf of Thailand by 100 mcfpd during the period and to reduce natural gas consumption at its separation plants by another 100 mcfpd. Chakree expected that 350 mcfpd of gas remaining in the pipeline would be sufficient for natural gas-powered vehicles in the west of Thailand.

Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) Governor Sutas Patamasiriwat admitted that power "brownouts" - drops in voltage in the power-supply system - were possible in the South and Bangkok during the period, without the high-voltage pressure from power plants in the country's west.

"The disruption will have severe impacts, as the shutdowns usually occur during the cool season. Yet, this time it is happening in the hot season, and it can't be delayed, due to the destabilisation of the drilling rig."

During the shutdown period, six power plants in the west will operate on bunker oil and diesel.

Former energy minister Piyasvasti Amranand said that as diesel and bunker oil are to replace natural gas, the public should not be held solely responsible for the extra generating cost. The gas-field operator should also be held responsible, he said. Piyasvasti suggested all parties cooperate in the energy-saving campaign, particularly shopping complexes, which he said should not set their air-conditioning systems below 27 degrees Celsius.

The general public should also be encouraged not to wear suits and to turn off some lights. For a long-term solution, Thailand should reduce its reliance on natural gas from 70 per cent of its power supply at present, and conduct further studies on nuclear and other alternative sources of power, he said.

During the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Deputy Commerce Minister Natthawut Saikua showed his enthusiasm for the policy when it was raised by offering to take off his jacket and asking other ministers to follow suit. Yingluck stopped them, however, saying such a practice could be implemented after official Cabinet approval was secured.

Three members of the government spokespeople's team wore short-sleeved shirts to set an example, after Cabinet approval was reached. Chief spokesperson Tossaporn Serirak later gave additional details about the policy, saying hospitals and airports would be exempt from the austerity measures.

According to the Energy Ministry, this summer, peak power consumption in Thailand is expected to hit 27,000 megawatts, higher than last year's peak volume of 26,700MW, due to economic expansion.

Looking beyond this short-term problem, Noppol Milinthanggoon, chief executive officer of Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding - two of whose power plants in Ratchaburi will be affected by the disrupted gas supply from Myanmar - was more concerned with Thailand's low "spinning reserve" and the delay in building large-scale power plants. He said these would pose a bigger problem to national security in the long term.

He said the spinning reserve - the unused capacity that can be activated in an emergency - is now as low as 2 per cent - or just 500MW - of the country's combined installed capacity of 27,000MW. Meanwhile, Egat forecasts power demand this coming hot season will increase 5 per cent from last year's peak of 26,700MW, recorded on April 26. "With the low spinning reserve, if any power plant falls, a power blackout would be very likely," he said.

The spinning reserve will remain low this year without the additional power supply. Facing strong opposition from local residents in Chachoengsao, Siam Energy in 2010 had to relocate its 1,600MW Bang Khla power plant elsewhere and could not start operations in 2013 as planned. According to a source at the Energy Ministry, the first 800MW should be fed into the system from June 1, 2015 and the rest from December 2015.

Noppol said the spinning reserve was low partly because hydropower plants have been unable to run at full capacity because of low water levels.


  • How a mom accidentally stole a car in under 60 seconds 1 hour 24 minutes ago
    How a mom accidentally stole a car in under 60 seconds

    “I didn't steal your car but I think my mom may have. It's a long story. I'll explain, but your car is safe and sound," read the flier posted in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s a strange tale that began when Cheyrl Thorpe was asked by her daughter Nekisia Davis to dog sit her Pomeranian at her apartment, according to New York Magazine.

  • All-new 2015 Subaru Outback reestablishes higher ground 3 hours ago
    All-new 2015 Subaru Outback reestablishes higher ground

    Much of Subaru’s modern day success in America can be attributed to one car: the Outback. Born in 1994 as a response to the growing popularity of SUVs, the Outback established a winning formula of combining a high-riding suspension, butch body cladding and big round fog lights to its comfortable, no-nonsense Legacy wagon. It is the kind of unique product that only a quirky company like Subaru could build, and was one that kept Subaru from slipping into ubiquity even as traditional SUVs and crossovers have taken over the world.

  • Custom faux-tique electric tram aims to replace New York's horses over the neigh-sayers 4 hours ago
    Custom faux-tique electric tram aims to replace New York's horses over the neigh-sayers

    For the record, it's the year 2014. I mention that in case someone reading this story about a push to replace horses with motorized carriages thinks they've stumbled onto some archival piece by accident. It's been more than 100 years since the first vehicles began to trundle around Manhattan, but the last remaining vestiges of horse-powered transport in the city could be nigh — if the backers of a massive electric wagon get their way.

  • Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers
    Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers

    Singaporeans on social media reacted angrily to news that tissue sellers at hawker centres and street corners are being required to pay for an annual licence.

  • ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says
    ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says

    KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — The “huge” statues at a Hindu temple in Batu Caves and Buddhist temple in Penang are an affront to Islam as the religion forbids idolatry, a retired Court of Appeals judge...

  • Over 280 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes
    Over 280 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

    By Narae Kim JINDO South Korea (Reuters) - More than 280 people, many of them students from the same high school, were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea on Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years. It was not immediately clear why the Sewol ferry listed heavily on to its side and capsized in apparently calm conditions off South Korea's southwest coast, but some survivors spoke of a loud noise prior to the disaster.