Nam Theun 2 shuts down to prevent downstream flooding

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Vientiane Times 8 August 2011

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy

The Nam Theun 2 hydropower plant in the central province of Khammuan has halted electricity generation due to fears that continued operations will cause flooding in the downstream river of Xebangfay, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

The Energy Promotion and Development Department made a statement on Friday that the 1,070 MW hydropower plant in Gnommalat district had eased electricity generation after finding out that the level of the Xebangfay river is near the flood mark in the district town of Mahaxay.

The move aims to stop the release of more water into the downstream channel, which drains into the Xebangfay river, and avoid aggravating the natural floods caused by heavy rains over the past several days.

“The Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC) ensures water is not released in respect of an agreement with the government,” the statement reads.

According to the department, NTPC reported a slowdown of water releases on August 1, when it appeared that the Xebangfay river was rising quickly, and stopped releases entirely the following day as the river approached the warning level at Mahaxai.

The river continued to rise due to the torrential rain, which has caused flooding across three central provinces.

The department also said that the halt in water releases is the second enforced by the power company this year. On July 3, the plant slowed down power generation and stopped releases of water into the Xebangfay river over fears of flooding.

On that occasion the rains stopped shortly afterwards and no flooding was recorded in the vicinity.

Use of the plant's regulating pond, which can hold 8 million cubic metres of water, allows NTPC to continue generating electricity for local consumption for a limited period during such stoppages. The power is generated through the project's smaller pelton unit turbines, without releasing any water, the department said.

The amount of rain recorded over the last week has been exceptional and the flooding is likely to cause problems for farmers for the rest of the rice season.

Some farmers in the Xebangfay area this year planted flood resistant rice strains supplied by NTPC, but losses are still expected. Private property and public infrastructure have also been affected by the floods, with the Gnommalat district authority reporting that NTPC has been helping to clear landslides in the district.

The Nam Theun 2 hydropower plant began commercial operation in early 2010 after five years of construction.

The multipurpose de-velopment project aims to generate revenues for poverty reduction and manage water to prevent both floods and droughts.