Out of the 170 rice husk projects currently in the pipeline, 12 are being implemented in Thailand of which only the 22-megawatt rice husk-fueled power plant owned by A.T. Biopower has been registered so far and has become Thailand’s most celebrated renewable energy plant. The purpose of the project activity is to set up a biomass-based co-generation plant that displaces greenhouse gas emission-intensive fossil fuel-based power generation. The projects use rice husk, an abundant waste product of the rice milling process, as fuel to feed an advanced biomass-fired generation systems
There was also one project rejected in March 2009. But Power Prospect Company Limited (PPCL) did not give up and submitted the same project “Power Prospect 9.9 MW Rice Husk Power Plant” a second time for registration last week. Japan’s Mitsubishi who is waiting to buy these credits is also pocketing the expected 495.000 CERs to be generated by 2012 from the already registered project.
However, according to a recent article by IPS, The Story Underneath “THAILAND: Renewable Energy Not So Clean and Green After All?”, rice husk projects cause more harm than good: Rice husks contain silica, which is known to cause silicosis, the world’s most common occupational lung disease among unprotected workers. Silica concentrations in rice husk ash can range from 85 to 90 percent. Farmers in nearby villages of the A.T. Biopower project complain about reduction in rice yields that began immediately after the power plant became operational and a layer of ash started to descend on fields. Moreover, health problems skin rashes and breathing difficulties have developed due to the pollutants.
Supakij Nantaworakarn, a renewable energy researcher with the non-government Healthy Public Policy Foundation says that protests against biomass projects have been widespread in at least 20 Thai provinces, many of which are ongoing. He said that “Renewable energy, notably the readily available biomass, is good for Thailand, but the government has to ensure investors carry out their projects responsibly”. According to him, investors consistently build 9.9-megawatt plants to avoid the environmental impact assessment (EIA) required by law for any power plant exceeding 10 megawatts in capacity. Yet completing an EIA does not guarantee no problems will arise in the future. Once approved, plants operate with little government oversight, he says.
Against this background it is not surprising, that the two new rice husk projects that are currently requesting registration have a capacity of 9.9 MW and 7.5 MW respectively. EDF Trading Limited, one of the largest energy suppliers of the UK is waiting to buy credits of the Decha Bio Green Rice Husk Power Generation 7.5MW, also requesting registration.
Despite the complaints, A.T. Biopower seems not aware of health problems arising from his company’s plant operations. Yet, the company has set aside an environmental guarantee fund of five million baht to be released to the “affected parties” in case “the power plant causes any damage to the community.” But affected individuals have not been offered compensation yet. On the contrary, they were offered “compensation” for giving up opposition to the power plant. You can read more about the project here.
Action to be taken by the Board: The Board must agree to review the rice husk projects 2934 Decha Bio Green Rice Husk Power Generation 7.5MW and 2938 Power Prospect 9.9MW Rice Husk Power Plant, currently requesting registration. Moreover, it must consider introducing penalties if project proponents do not meet the standards as required by the project. The Board should also consider involving community groups in the monitoring phase of the project in order to create incentives for project proponents to implement the projects responsibly.