Salween Dam has ‘Too Much Dirty Backwash’ for Thailand

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The Irrawaddy 20 February 2010


The large-scale hydroelectric dam proposed for the River Salween at Hatgyi might never be built—at least not by Thailand.

That’s the view of some energy industry analysts following the Bangkok government’s announcement that further environmental studies of the estimated US $1 billion project—which is located inside Burma, but close to the Thai border—are to be made.

Plans for more assessments before any building work begins come on top of previous delays to the project, which has earmarked a massive 1,200-megawatt capacity electricity-generating system.

“This new stall indicates that the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is having second thoughts,” Bangkok analyst Collin Reynolds told The Irrawaddy.

“It’s not so much concern about the environment as it is about need. Since the dam plans were first drawn up, the Thai Energy Ministry and EGAT [the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand] have been revising down their forecasts of future power need.

“And for a guy like Abhisit with his Western background, there is just too much dirty backwash politics in the Hatgyi project.”

Abhisit, under pressure from environmental and human rights groups, has ordered closer scrutiny of Hatgyi, which would lead to the forced displacement of many Karen people.

A dam at Hatgyi has been discussed since the 1990s. An agreement to build it was signed in 2006 between EGAT, the Burmese government and several other partners, notably China’s state-owned Sinohydro Corporation.

Industry analysts say that if Thailand does eventually withdraw from the project, it’s possible that Chinese firms might take over—but because of a lack of infrastructure it would be much more expensive to transmit the electricity to China than into Thailand.