How to satisfy Thailand's growing demand for power without ruining the environment, disrupting communities or causing political tensions with neighboring countries is a subject of fierce debate in Thailand, the Mekong region's economic giant.
Since the mid 1960s, Thailand has constructed more than forty major dams for power generation and irrigation, resulting in significant opposition amongst rural communities. Villagers' resistance to projects such as the Pak Mun and Rasi Salai Dams have essentially halted new dam construction in Thailand, although these communities are still fighting for permanent decommissioning of the dams to restore their lost livelihoods.
To meet Thailand's energy needs, Thai energy planners are planning to import hydropower from neighboring Laos, Yunnan Province of China, and Burma - where community opposition is stifled - rather than making more substantial reforms to Thailand's power consumption habits. Thai power companies plan to develop many of these projects, typically backed by Thai commercial banks and Thailand's export credit agency, the Export-Import Bank of Thailand.
Energy planning in Thailand is currently biased towards building new large power plants rather than seeking alternative solutions. Furthermore, a consistent overestimation of power demand has resulted in excessive investment in new power plants, leading to needless environmental and social costs, as well as unnecessarily high electricity bills for captive Thai consumers.
Thai civil society groups are calling for the reform of the energy planning process that would allow for public participation and give equal consideration to all energy solutions. They point out that Thailand could meet its future energy needs without investing in proposed large hydropower, coal, and nuclear power plants through promoting energy efficiency, upgrading existing power generation facilities and removing barriers to renewable energy technologies.
International Rivers' Southeast Asia program is working with civil society groups in Thailand to support villagers' calls for decommissioning of existing dams. International Rivers is also supporting calls for an improved energy planning process in Thailand and greater accountability of power companies and commercial banks that are developing hydropower projects in the region.