CONSTRUCTION of the Thepa coal-fired power plant is set to begin in the second quarter of next year, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) said, even though many locals have refused to sell their land despite facing threats.
Egat has so far insisted that it will build the 2,200-megawatt power plant in Songkhla's Thepa district, despite strong protests from local people. The Environment and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) for both the plant and coal transport has also not been approved by the Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning Office (ONEP).
Ratanachai Namwong, Egat's deputy governor on power plant development, said construction of the plant will begin by May next year at the latest, otherwise plans to have it operating by April 2021 as per the Power Development Plan 2015 will be delayed.
"We need at least 48 months to build the power plant, and if we want to put it in operation in time, then construction will have to begin by next year," Ratanachai said.
"As of now, we only have a problem with the EHIA study, as ONEP specialists are still considering the EHIA report for the power plant and coal transport pier. If EHIA is approved, we can go ahead with the construction," he added.
He went on to say that this is the third time that the agency has sent its EHIA report to ONEP, after the previous two were rejected as they needed improvement.
He claimed that 95 per cent of the residents of Tambon Pak Bang accepted the project and that those protesting were from outside. Hence, he said, there should be no problem if the construction begins.
However, locals revealed that only 700 rai (112 hectares) of the 2,962 rai needed for the project was state owned and that the rest of the area covered plots that had rightful owners with title deeds.
Hmid Chaitem, a resident of Tambon Pak Bang, said more than 240 families, or 800 people, live on the land that will be used for the power plant and most of them had refused to relocate.
"Most of the land that Egat wants to build the power plant on is already occupied. Nearly 200 families have the land deed and if Egat wants to use their land, it will have to buy it from the owners. However, very few want to sell their land," Hmid said.
He added that Egat had recently called for a meeting with landowners who are willing to sell their land, but only some 25 people showed up.
"I will not sell my plot to Egat, because this is my forefathers' land. The land here is the people's land. How can they take it away from us? We don't want to live in a city. Here, all we have to do is gather our food from the garden or the sea. We are self-sufficient," he said.
Rokheeya Sama-air, who also lives on the proposed site, said that though her family has lived there for a century, she did not have a land title.
"My home is on public land, but my ancestors have lived here for a century. I insist I will not move away, because I don't have anywhere else to go. This is my home and this is my land," Rokheeya said.
Hmid also claimed that he had received threatening messages from proponents of the project because he has taken a strong stance against the power plant.