Sustainability assessment of Thailand’s electricity planning: Using section 1 of the 2009 hydropower sustainability assessment protocol

  • 2010-11-17

Sustainability assessment of Thailand’s electricity planning: Using section 1 of the 2009 hydropower sustainability assessment protocol

We conducted a rapid assessment of the sustainability performance of the Thai power development plan and a number of related planning processes, focusing on the Thai plan’s implications for development of hydropower in the Mekong region. We used the August 2009 draft Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP), which is a qualitative multi-criteria audit tool designed to be used by a wide range of interested parties.
We applied the HSAP from a public interest perspective: We assumed that aquatic ecosystems in the Mekong region are critically important for less privileged people, and that Thailand’s electricity planners can and should consider the distributional and ecological consequences of planning choices on a Mekong regional scale.

Two sets of readers may find the report of interest. Those who seek insight into sustainability challenges posed, when a middle-income Asian country turns to hydropower imports from poorer neighbors, will find a contextualized and empirically rich discussion. Readers interested in the practice of integrated sustainability assessment will find a detailed application of the August 2009 draft Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP) – a tool which has been somewhat controversial to date (Bosshard 2010; Foran 2010; Locher, et al. 2010).

Does rapid assessment improve our understanding of sustainability challenges? We found a number of significant gaps or weaknesses in the Thai power development plan (PDP). Combined with political instability faced by the Thai government in 2009-10, these challenges resulted in generally low levels of sustainability performance of the 2010 PDP. The Thai Ministry of Energy however appears genuinely willing to cooperate with civil society organizations in ongoing work that may improve the next PDP.
The 2009 HSAP was not an easy tool to use. Many indicators required careful re-interpretation. The assessment was time consuming: partly because multiple processes deserved to be assessed in order to derive an adequate picture of multi-level planning processes.

Sustainable development needs early-stage planning tools, which allow options to be rethought. Despite its practical difficulties, the 2009 HSAP compresses a range of important issues into one emerging framework. Although the Thai PDP is ultimately a bureaucratic planning process, its sustainability can – and must – be influenced by civil society and regional-level actors. Though careful interpretation of the HSAP is required, this finding is adequately captured by the use of the Protocol.

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