Laos defends Xayaboury power plant

Vientiane Times 20 April 2011

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy

Construction of the first hydropower plant in the lower Mekong basin will comply with the MRC Secretariat Preliminary Design Guidance and best practices based on international standards, according to an official Lao statement.

The statement was delivered by Mr Viraphonh Viravong in defence of the development of a proposed hydro-electricity power plant on the Mekong River.

The power plant would be built on a section of the river in Huaysoui village, Xayaboury province, and Pakneun village in Luang Prabang province.

Mr Viraphonh, who is Director General of the Electricity Department at the Ministry of Energy and Mines, headed a Lao delegation attending a special Mekong River Commission meeting convened in Vientiane yesterday.

The meeting of Cambodian, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese delegations on the US$3.8 billion power plant was held in accordance with an MRC agreement made in 1995. The agreement states that member countries must notify each other if they wish to engage in development of infrastructure in the Mekong River, particularly if it may have transboundary impacts.

According to a press release from the MRC Secretariat, the Lao delegation told the meeting that the impacts of the power plant development, such as on navigation, fish passage, sediment, water quality, aquatic ecology and dam safety can be mitigated at acceptable levels.

Other MRC members raised concerns over technical knowledge and studies relating to the proposed dam, saying that inadequate studies would cause negative impacts on the environment and livelihoods of people who live in the Mekong basin. Cambodia said more time may be required for Laos and the power plant developer to fill gaps in technical requirements and for effective consultations among MRC member countries and with the public.

Thailand said it acknowledged the importance of the hydropower plant for the development of Laos. However, to move the project forward, precautionary and mitigation measures should be conducted for the sake of the people and environment in the region.

Vietnam expressed concerns over the lack of adequate, appropriate and comprehensive assessments of transboundary and cumulative impacts that the project may cause downstream. Mr Viraphonh said Laos appreciated all the comments by MRC member countries, saying Laos will consider the issues and do its best to accommodate all of the concerns raised at the meeting.

According to the MRC, the proposed Xayaboury dam is located about 150km downstream from the town of Luang Prabang. The dam has an installed capacity of 1,260MW with a dam 810m long and 32m high and a reservoir area of 49km2 and live storage of 225Mm3.

At the meeting Laos insisted there was no need to extend the prior consultation process since this option would not be practical, while transboundary environmental impacts on other countries are unlikely.

Laos proposed to end the prior consultation process, noting that an extension to conduct further studies will require much more time than six months and it will not be possible to satisfy all parties' concerns.

It was agreed by the four countries that a decision on the prior consultation process for the proposed project be tabled for consideration at the ministerial level, as they could not come to a conclusion on how to proceed.

The Lao government considers the project to be a source of revenue to boost development, with the power generated to be exported to Thailand.

In 2007, the Lao government signed a memorandum of understanding with two Thai companies, Ch. Karnchang Public Construction Company and PT Construction Company, allowing them to conduct a technical study and survey of the project's environmental and social impacts. The Thai government gave the green light to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to negotiate a tariff agreement with the project developer in July last year.