Search
Close this search box.

Thailand’s new energy roadmap draws scrutiny

As Thailand unveils its new energy roadmap, labour unions and watchdogs fear that the plan will only exacerbate the country’s already high electricity costs and burden consumers.

Nicha Wachpanich/HaRDstories
Komsan Thongsiri, a technician at the Metropolitan Electricity Authority and a member of the state enterprise labour union, delivered a speech in front of the Ministry of Energy in Bangkok on 13 June 2024. Thongsiri and his fellow union members were protesting the rising cost of electricity and demanding government action to address their concerns. Photo: Nicha Wachpanich/HaRDstories

Bangkok – Amid the searing heat of the morning sun, electricity state enterprise worker Komsan Thongsiri smeared black paint over the face of Pheu Thai Party leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra on an election billboard. The symbolic act, carried out alongside his colleagues, represented their growing frustration and distrust towards the government’s promises of fairer energy prices. 

This protest, held in front of the Ministry of Energy on 13 June, echoed the sentiment of many Thais who struggle with the rising costs of electricity and other essential utilities, paying 4.18 baht (0.11 USD) per unit for household electricity use. 

“I am an electricity state worker, but that does not mean I have any special benefits,” said Komsan. “I am just another citizen who is impacted by expensive public utilities and products.”

 

Problematic management

The State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC), Komsan’s labour union, and the Thai Labour Solidarity Confederation, a veteran labour group, have urged the government to cancel electricity generation deals with private companies that have led to an oversupply. These agreements have resulted in an excessive energy reserve and higher costs that burden citizens.

According to Justpow, an energy watchdog, Thailand’s energy reserve in 2023 stood at 10,000 megawatts, far surpassing the international security standard. This oversupply has been widely criticised for favouring private investors in new energy projects, such as hydropower dams and gas-fueled power plants.

The electricity generation projects would sign a “Take or Pay” contract with the Thai government, guaranteeing payment for their investments in facilities, even if the plants are not operational. According to the Thailand Consumers Council, between May and August 2023, Thai electricity users collectively paid more than 6,100 million baht (166 million USD) to six idle power plants. This additional charge is automatically included in their monthly electricity bills.

“We face higher living costs today not because of the minimum wage raise, but because of  higher energy costs,” stated the labour unions in their submitted letter to the Ministry of Energy. “We can no longer stand the injustice caused by the energy giants backed by the government.”

The protesters exhibited models of an electricity pole, gas cylinder and fuel pump, decorated with the torch symbol to signify one of Thailand’s biggest oil and gas conglomerates. The energy giant started off as a state-owned enterprise before being corporatised in 2001. Now, the Ministry of Finance is the major shareholder of this enterprise.

The labour unionists call on the government to reform the power production, taking more shares in the heavily privatised industry. Currently, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand produces only 33 percent of total energy production.

The labour advocates also demanded lower fuel prices through the reduction of taxes included in the current pricing. According to the Energy Policy and Planning Office (EPPO), Thai drivers now pay an average of 35 baht per litre (0.95 USD) for diesel and petrol, placing Thailand in the middle range among ten Southeast Asian countries.

Doubts over the new power plan

In the same week, Thailand’s new energy roadmap for the upcoming decade known as Power Development Plan (PDP 2024) was opened for public hearings.

The new power plan outlines the national energy needs and power generation scheme for 2024-2037, with a projected total of 112,391 megawatt (MW) in 2037.

The number is nearly double that of the end of 2023. While policymakers claim that this increase is necessary to accommodate the growing GDP, the planned overabundance has faced widespread criticism from watchdogs, including the labour networks and the Thai Federation of Industries.

The new plan promises a cheaper electricity price calculation than the previous energy plan, leading to an average price of 3.87 baht/unit, taking into consideration the inflation of gas price. 

But this price is not final. The extra cost known as Ft will be added in the electricity bill, so the household users end up paying at least 4 baht. The Ft calculation has been widely criticised as a financial burden which users have to shoulder. Currently, many power facilities are not running their engines due to oversupplying reserves.

PDP 2024 claims to provide energy security that suits the growing economy while paving the path for carbon neutrality in 2050. It aims to reduce coal usage and promote more renewable energy production, so the latter makes  up to 51 percent of national energy mix.

However, the so-called renewable energy vision has faced criticism from environmentalists as it includes buying electricity from hydropower in Laos, whose power plants allegedly cause ecological damage to Mekong river communities. 

Moreover, two 300-MW small nuclear power plants are planned in the southern and northeastern region. Last year, the rumour of bringing back the nuclear facility in Nakhon Nayok province in central Thailand sparked public opposition.

The public hearings for oil management plans, expected to be out at the same time, are yet to be announced.

 

Lack of public participation

The new power development plan was open for public hearing to the general public for a mere five days, from 19 – 23 June, via an online channel. Additionally, two online webinars were held for the rest of the country.

“The PDP 2024 draft is not available for public access even though it is a significant plan to determine national energy production which will have wide socio-economic and environmental impacts,” stated the environmental legal aid group EnLaW on their website “The Energy Policy and Planning Office needs to publicise the information fifteen days ahead of the hearings according to the law.”

The little participation in writing the power plan is nothing new, according to the monitor by the network Justpow who points out that Thailand’s nine previous power production plans, including their revised edition, have never had an available draft for public access beforehand, blocking the public from providing meaningful feedback.

There are two-days on-site events for governmental authorities, state enterprises and private investors in Bangkok to hear their opinions. One of them was live-streamed on EPPO’s Facebook page on the day, but is no longer available for access. 

Orapin Phettat, advisor to the Minister of Energy, said in an interview with HaRDstories during the protest held by the labour unionists that “We would love to hear what the general public thinks of the plan. If we just write the plan and implement it by ourselves solely, we would not tailor the right answer for the people.”