Plans are underway for an 870 MW coal-fired power plant to be built in Nuea Khlong district, just a short drive outside of Krabi town, with a proposed seaport in the small fishing village of Ban Khlong Rua. The coal will be shipped across the Andaman Sea in 11,000 ton tankers from Australia, South Africa and Indonesia, passing by many of the popular tourist islands, including Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Koh Jum, with over two million tons of coal imported every year.
Krabi’s breathtaking beauty, rich biodiversity and unique history have all helped make it one of Thailand’s top tourist destinations, with around 2.3 million tourists visiting annually. As well as its pristine beaches and outstanding natural beauty, Krabi boasts at least two hundred species of fish and eighty species of coral.
Sadly, this could all soon be under threat from the proposed coal power plant. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) plans to build the new coal plant on the site of an existing power plant in Nuea Khlong, currently generated by gas and oil but which was previously fueled by coal for thirty years up until 1995. The new plant will be over ten times larger than the former one and locals are very worried, particularly those who remember the damage caused by the previous coal plant – polluted waters, diminished fish stocks, damaged crops and uncommonly high concentrations of illnesses, especially respiratory diseases.
Thailand’s Energy Minister has insisted the power plant must start generating electricity by 2019 and this would be the first of several more coal-fired power plants planned for Southern Thailand. Two plants are proposed for Songkhla, as well as plants in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang and Satun. EGAT aims to boost coal powered energy generation in Thailand from 14% to 23% by 2030. Although EGAT states that the coal plants will use modern cleaning technology to reduce pollution, many locals are not convinced that pollution levels will remain low enough to cause no damage to public health or the surrounding land and marine environments. Locals are also concerned that their livelihoods, namely tourism, fishing, and agriculture, will be badly affected.
Residents and business owners from Krabi and its surrounding islands are increasingly protesting against the coal plant and the opposition movement has grown larger and more vocal over the last few months. A rally recently took place in Krabi town, where several hundred protesters marched from the crab monument to Thara Park, chanting ‘we don’t want coal’ and a live discussion with Thai PBS news channel took place.
Tourism leaders are pressing for Krabi to be a green city in order to keep attracting more and more tourists to the region. They are concerned that the government plans to make the Southern region of Thailand more industrial, and protestors argue that the South of Thailand should be conserved for tourism, not industry. Tourism in Krabi generates over nine million US Dollars a year, with many visitors returning year after year. If the coal plant goes ahead, it is highly likely that tourism will be very badly affected.
Local people criticize the government’s current energy plan, which aims to increase the number of coal-fired power plants in Thailand, especially at a time when so many other countries are trying to move away from coal and adopt renewable energy instead. Several investment companies around the world have begun to announce their divestment from fossil fuels and G7 leaders recently agreed to phase out the use of coal by the end of the century. China, the world’s biggest burner of coal, has even started reducing its dependence on coal and is instead increasing its renewable energy. It seems that the majority of the world is now turning against coal at a time when Thailand chooses to embrace it.
Protestors suggest the best option for Krabi would be to utilize a mixture of renewable energy – namely wind, solar and biomass. However, EGAT claims that renewable energy would be too expensive, despite the estimated cost of building, the proposed coal plant being two billion US Dollars. Opponents believe that, if the hidden costs of coal are taken into account, for example the damage to people’s health and the environment, and the loss of locals’ livelihoods, then renewable energy compares much more favorably cost-wise to coal. The costs of renewable energies have also decreased dramatically over the last decade and look set to decrease even further over the coming years.
The arguments stack up against Thailand embracing coal but which future will the government choose for the country? Will Krabi become a green city or end up losing its coral to coal?
You can follow and support the protest in English on the NoCoalLanta Facebook and Twitter pages and also sign the Avaaz petition ‘Don’t Let Our Corals Become Coal’.