The threat of possible blackouts in Bangkok and some southern areas remains even as Myanmar has agreed to help the government through its high-demand power woes in April.

Total, French operator of the Yadana block in Myanmar, has agreed to delay maintenance at the Yadana gas field by 36 hours from the morning of April 4 to midday on April 5, the government said yesterday.

The gas field supplies a quarter of Thailand’s gas, which in turn makes up 70% of the country’s total energy needs.

The maintenance work had threatened to disrupt supplies at a time when demand for gas in Thailand is high.

The government asked Myanmar to postpone the work so it would fall during the Songkran holidays, when demand for power is lower than usual.

The maintenance will now last until April 14 instead of April 12 as originally planned, Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisarn said after meeting energy policymakers and officials yesterday.

The maintenance period would overlap with the Songkran festival on April 12-16 when power consumption normally declines, he said.

Still, Mr Pongsak said the supply shortfall remains a concern since electricity usage is expected to peak at 26,300 megawatts (MW) on April 5.

Mr Pongsak said electricity reserves are expected to fall to 600 MW or 2% of total generating capacity of 30,000 MW during the afternoon hours of April 5.

The southern region and areas in Greater Bangkok will be susceptible to electricity outages because three power plants that receive gas from Myanmar are the main power generators for those areas with a combined capacity of 6,000 MW.

“We still need cooperation from the private sector and state agencies to cut energy use to avoid electricity outages that day,” the minister said.

Large private electricity users such as Siam City Cement Plc, TPI Polene and Thai-Asahi will be asked to cut their production during peak hours to lower power consumption.

Additional electricity supplies will be required from other plants including the Bang Pakong plant in Chon Buri, small and large privately owned plants and hydroelectric power plants in Laos.

The government yesterday told officials in state agencies to take off their jackets at work to help relieve the workload of air conditioners.

Government buildings nationwide will be asked to set air conditioning systems at 25 degrees.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) said the power plants could be switched to run on bunker oil and diesel instead of Myanmar’s gas. Generation costs would rise by 0.0048 baht a kilowatt-hour during May to August as a result. The Energy Regulatory Commission will decide whether the cost will be passed on to consumers, Mr Pongsak said.

Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong yesterday alerted hospitals to prepare power generators and fuel for emergency electricity generating.

The Public Health Ministry would negotiate with power authorities to give priority to hospitals.

Meanwhile, consumer protection activists say the electricity crisis alert may serve as an excuse for a power fee hike and unpopular power plant projects.

Boonyuen Siritham, chairman of the Confederation of Consumer Organisations, told a forum on the prospect of an energy crisis that the government issued the warning even though the country’s generating capacity is much higher than demand.

“The government should not put on an act by asking people to take off their jackets and avoid using elevators,” she said. “It should emphasise self-reliance in energy policies.”

Prasart Meetaem, a consumer activist, said the government based generation mainly on gas and ignored energy alternatives such as solar, wind and biomass power.

Jiraporn Limpananont, chairman of the Foundation for Consumers, urged the government to support alternative generation in addition to gas-fired generation because gas prices were likely to rise continuously.

Athabun Inwongsa, of the same foundation, said the government raised the emergency alert possibly to justify coal-fired or nuclear power plants that could have big impacts on the environment.

Link: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/336917/?