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Another major Xayaburi pact

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A woman sorts through shellfish on the banks of the Mekong River in Xayaburi province, Laos, where a controversial dam is slated for construction. Photograph: International Rivers

The inking of a €300 million contract for water turbines, and job advertisements marked “urgent” appear to be the latest signs that Laos is powering forward with the Xayaburi hydroelectric dam project on the Mekong River.

Assurances the $3.8 billion project was on hold pending further studies into its possible environmental impacts on downstream Cambodia have formed a strong part of Lao ministers’ parlance since news of a construction contract surfaced in April.

Talk and action in the past week, however, suggest Laos is proceeding with building the 1,285-megawatt dam, which environmental groups and Cambodian fishing communities fear could destroy livelihoods by blocking fish migration and sediment flow.

Austrian-based company Andritz has announced that CH Karnchang, the dam’s Thai builder, has placed an order with it for electro-mechanical equipment.

“The order value is about 250-300 [million euros] and... is planned to come into force during the next six months. Start-up is scheduled for the end of 2019,” Andritz said in a statement.

“[Andritz] will deliver seven Kaplan turbines, each with an output of 175 [megawatts], an additional Kaplan turbine with an output of 68.8 [megawatts], generators and governors, automation systems and additional equipment.”

The company added that Laos was focusing on hydropower projects to improve the standard of living of its population, stimulate the economy and reduce its dependence on fossil energy.

More than 85 per cent of Xayaburi’s energy is expected to be sold to Thailand.

Today is the closing date for applications for five inspector positions that the Xayaburi Power Company is seeking “urgently to fill”.  

Listed on Laos website 108job, the company’s advertisement calls for males aged 25 to 30 who speak fluent Thai to apply. Experience in a power plant would be an advantage, it says.

When the Post rang the number, a man said he was not involved with the Xayaburi Power Company.

These developments came amid firm comments from Lao deputy minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong about his country’s plans for hydroelectricity.  

“There is no question of [Laos] not developing its hydropower potential,” he said last week.

“The only question is how to do it sustainably.”

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, said Laos had no right to build the dam as Cambodia and Vietnam had not agreed to it.

“Right now, it is impossible to say it is going to benefit the Lao people... for past projects, there is no evidence that the revenue has benefited the community. Andritz should be reconsidering its involvement in this.”

The Post could not confirm reports Cambodia had sent a delegation to Laos yesterday to again urge it to suspend construction of the dam.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com

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