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In Picturesque Thailand, Coal Plant Draws Protests

Environmental activists in Thailand are protesting plans to reopen an 800-megawatt coal plant in a coastal region, Krabi, that is popular with eco-tourists. The controversy pits Thailand’s growing energy needs against its image as a seaside paradise.

Along the southwestern coast, tourism is big business, worth more than $40 million a year.

Despite rapid development, Krabi, a coastal province, is still recognized as a green tourism zone and its wetlands are included on an international conservation list.

To meet rising demand for electricity, authorities are planning to restart a local power plant, which will bring ships hauling coal near parks and beaches popular with tourists.

Near the power plant’s location in Krabi town, fisherman Manit Bootpheaw remembers the health problems from the 90's when it was last active.

"In the past when they burn the coal through the stacks, the smoke would completely cover my house. It affected our family eight months a year, and during the rainy season we couldn't use the rainwater because it was acid rain," Manit recalled.

The public is hungry for more information, and many attended recent meetings between officials from Electric Generating Authority of Thailand and local leaders. But critics say EGAT is only telling one side of the story.

"This is a concern for the region's environmental problems because we know the production of energy from coal is the main cause for climate change," said Chariya Senpong, of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Outbreaks of violence between supporters and opponents of the plant have already created divisions within the community.

Thai human rights lawyer Niran Phithakwatchara said EGAT needs to do more to listen to locals about their objections.

"The company needs to work with the people and provide complete information and take advice from the community so they are part of the decision-making," said Niran.

If the plant moves forward, it is expected to be complete in 2019. In the meantime, opponents are hoping to promote renewable energy sources as a solution to the region’s rising energy demands.