Small Karen village gets help on sustainable energy use from UNDP

Jul 23, 2012

UNDP Thailand/Sutharin Koonphol : The Karen village of Mae Kopi vote on the membership of their new village energy committee, which will manage and regulate their new hydroelectric power system.

Three years ago, Mae Kopi, a small Karen village in the Northern Thai province of Mae Hong Son was without power. But when the lights came on, life in Mae Kopi changed. The village was given power via a 30kw hydroelectric generator from the Ministry of Energy’s Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DEDE).

Modern conveniences that are commonplace to most of Thailand now made their way into daily living. The tiny village, which has just 76 families now has four rice mills, 55 rice cookers, 25 refrigerators, 7 electric pans and three washing machines. And that list will continue to grow. 

“If everyone uses their rice cookers at the same time, it means more power will be needed, which is beyond the capacity of the system,” said Nopadol Jiamton, Chief of DEDE’s Mae Sa-Nga Hydro Power Plant in Mae Hong Son province.

“Power cuts will be longer and more frequent.”

UNDP’s renewable energy project in Mae Hong Son is helping facilitate this local communities’ entry into modern life and reduce these inconveniences. The UNDP project set up a village renewable energy committee and is providing the knowledge and skills needed for the villagers to continue using the system in a sustainable fashion. 

This July, UNDP and DEDE held a public consultation with the community, and explained how having a village committee could help regulate energy use. Composed of four women and seven men, the energy committee will manage the system and collect a small electricity fee which will be used to pay two local technicians and the dredging of the creek that powers the hydro system. The remainder of the fee goes will go into a fund that benefits the community.

“We hope that with this committee the system will run more smoothly and everyone can equally enjoy the benefit of having electricity,” said Mr. Sompob, the newly-appointed chair of the Mae Kopi Committee on Renewable Energy.

UNDP’s renewable energy project in Mae Hong Son provides technical support and skills on renewable energy technologies, and management of funds – with the aim to develop a cooperative where the village could sell the electricity when it gets connected to the grid to generate additional incomes.

Mae Kopi is one of ten pilot sites used to support the sustainable management of renewable energy systems as a means to improve the livelihoods. Renewable energy is critical to Thailand’s energy independence. By 2020, CO2 emissions could increase fourfold by 2020, or an average annual increase of around 4%. The Thai Government has made it a goal to get as much as 20.3% percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022. Their efforts in Mae Hong Son will inch them further to that goal.

In Mae Hong Son, renewable energy potential exists because of the province’s unique topography. The province has no access to the national transmission lines because of large swaths of protected forests. Only 55 percent have access to existing services, and some are not connected to any energy grid whatsoever.

This UNDP/GEF supported project is implemented by Thailand Environment Institute in partnership with Mae Hong Son Province, Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency, Electricity Generating Authority, Provincial Electricity Generating Authority and the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.