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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        1  February 2011

Regulators worried over Thailand's free electricity scheme

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Thailand's energy regulators are concerned with the government's promise to permanently waive electricity bills for low-income earners.

Part of the Pracha Wiwat populist scheme, households consuming below 90 units per month would not be charged for electricity. It is estimated that the government would have to pay 1.2 billion baht (US$38.4 million) per month for this power scheme.

"We're finishing a detailed study on this issue. We're concerned that this would encourage households which consume less than 90 units to push their consumption to the limit. This could jeopardise the campaign towards efficiency which urges all to cut their consumption," said Direk Lawansiri, president of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). "Indeed, the policy would not benefit all low-income power users as expected."

Some Thais now own more than one house. And the one not frequently used would show low energy consumption, but the owner - albeit their financial affluence - would be entitled to the government's assistance. Meanwhile, many poor users, who rent a house with many families, are not entitled to the benefits as the house does not have separate meters.

During visits to energy agencies in Sydney, the commission learned valuable schemes which could be more efficient in helping the poor cope with the increasing electricity bills. Australia has invented the Hardship Utilities Grant Scheme (HUGS), to assist power users who are unable to pay for their utilities due to financial hardship. Under this scheme, the users can receive a grant for up to 85 per cent of the amount that the household owes to a utility.

To be eligible for assistance under this scheme, they need to contact and inform their payment difficulties to power providers. If their financial hardship is proved, the government would help advise them on how to reduce electricity consumption. Once all is completed, they would be granted the subsidies, which would go directly to the power utilities. "This could be more useful if it is adapted to Thailand," Mr. Direk said.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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