Thailand’s first low-carbon and eco-friendly community, similar to Samso Island in Denmark and Pulau Ubin off Singapore, is taking shape on Phaluai island in Surat Thani.
Koh Phaluai, 20 kilometres west of Koh Samui, is among six islands nationwide chosen by the Energy Ministry, energy-related state enterprises and local administrations to be developed as green energy communities. Others include Koh Kut in Trat, Koh Tao in Surat Thani and Koh Nang Kham in Phatthalung.
A green island with zero fossil fuel use is a goal of the Energy Ministry and the local administration to create a low-carbon society, and they have spent 52 million baht so far to make the island independent of fossil fuel use.
Wind power generators were set up by the local community committee.
The government has an ambitious target for renewable energy to contribute 20% of the country’s total power consumption by 2020, a tall order for a country where green energy now accounts for a mere 5% of total use.
The island’s development will be based on the principles of community participation, sufficiency in energy resources, maintaining it as an attractive tourist spot, with an appropriate population level and energy usage, given the difficulty of bringing electricity to the remote site.
The island is renowned for sightseeing for dolphins, butterflies and hornbills in its primitive atmosphere. It has no resorts or hotels.
Only 438 people, or 180 families, now live on the island, mostly engaged in fishing and agriculture.
They previously relied on diesel-powered generators, which cost 10 times more than alternative power sources.
These families have shifted to solar cells as their main electricity resources, and 80 diesel vehicles and 90 boats will be converted to biodiesel and battery-operated vehicles.
“This area will be the demonstration site to study self-sufficiency development for low-carbon villages,” said Energy Minster Wannarat Channukul.
The local community has a committee to oversee 23 projects such as wind power generators, a water reservoir and check dams. Roads have also been upgraded to develop it into an ecology tourist area.
Over the longer term, the Agriculture Ministry plans to develop organic farming and revive defunct coconut farming. Energy crop plantations are also a possibility.
Krairit Nilkuha, director-general of the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency, said farms would be developed to raise the community’s income.
“Many local administrations have now approached the island’s committee and developers of renewable energy devices to create another green island in the Gulf of Thailand and a green hill in northern Thailand,” he said. “They want to develop creative tourism spots to raise their communities’ incomes without destroying the environment.”