Thai energy firm eyes Tavoy alternative

Thailand’s main energy firm, PTT, may approach the Burmese government over the construction of a hydrocarbon power plant in the Tavoy industrial zone, following Monday’s shock cancellation of a 4,000 MW coal-fired plant there.

The PTT head, Pailin Chuchottaworn, told Reuters today that it is “keen to invest in a hydrocarbon power plant, which Myanmar [Burma] does not have”, but would first gauge opinion from the government over where their interests lay.

The move to scrap the coal plant has surprised observers and stakeholders alike: Ital-Thai, the lead company in the Tavoy Special Industrial Zone claims it was not informed of the decision prior to Burma’s environment minister announcing it two days ago.

Some 3,600 MW of the power produced by the plant, located in southern Burma’s Tenasserim division, had been destined for Thailand; analysts believe however that the government may still go ahead with a smaller plant that would power construction of the 200 sq-kilometre industrial site.

The project, which will eventually run to around $US50 billion, is key to regional economies hungry for greater trade with the west. A major highway running from Kanchanaburi in Thailand to Tavoy will connect with a deep-sea port on Burma’s Andaman Sea coastline, which is being built to accommodate around 55 vessels laden with cargo at any one time.

But the venture has attracted huge animosity among locals, with disquiet centring on the massive, and likely highly pollutive, coal plant. Campaigners have pointed to the health problems linked to the Tigyit coal mine close to Shan state, where an adjacent coal-fired plant, to date Burma’s largest, has resulted in alarming levels of toxins in the air and nearby waterways.

The Tavoy plant however would have dwarfed the 120 MW plant in Tigyit, which a report last year said could produce pollution on such a scale that 12,000 people living nearby are forced to relocate.

A natural gas plant has been mooted as a possible alternative for Tavoy, but PTT thinks a proposal for hydrocarbon may find a warmer audience.

In addition to the coal plant and deep-sea port, the complex would have housed petrochemical plants, steel mills and plastics factories. Local campaigners believe up to 30,000 could be displaced by the project, which upon completion in 2019 is expected to be Southeast Asia’s largest industrial zone.

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