THE conservation group International Rivers (IR) has accused the operators of the Nam Theun II Hydroelectric Dam in Laos of “illegally” commencing power production, and has warned that the dam could affect the Mekong River in parts of Cambodia.
Ikuko Matsumoto, the group’s Laos programme director, said Tuesday that the Nam Theun II Power Company (NTPC) had failed to honour compensation agreements with people directly affected by the 1,070-megawatt dam, and that the indirect consequences of the dam on fish stocks and water quality would flow downstream into the Kingdom.
“There has been no clear study done on what the real impacts are, but there definitely will be a backwater impact on the Mekong River,” she said.
About 6,200 ethnic minority villagers in Laos have been displaced by the dam, which will be operated by NTPC for 25 years under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme.
NTPC, which has a power purchase agreement with the Thai government, has estimated that the dam could generate US$25 million in revenue.
Aiden Glendinning, public relations and communications manager for NTPC, said Tuesday that his company had done nothing wrong and questioned the credibility of IR.
“We don’t want to go into the technical details that IR have proposed because frankly they’re so far off the mark we don’t even want to go there,” he said.
Matsumoto also slammed the World Bank’s defence of NTPC’s right to commence power production before fulfilling the requirements of the concession agreement, suggesting the bank’s position raised serious ethical questions about its involvement in the project.
“The Nam Theun II Power Company are fully operating the four turbines, and the water level is at its highest, and [the World Bank] are still making this stupid, technical argument that this is not technically and legally a commercial operation – that’s why they use the language ‘commercial export’,” she said.
The World Bank is one of several partners funding the construction of the dam.
Representatives of the World Bank in Laos could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Glendinning denied his company had commenced commercial operations.
“This is still really part of the testing and conditioning process, but we still have managed to obtain a sales licence, so instead of generating electricity and getting nothing for it we’re now able to sell our test energy. So that’s where we are at this point,” he said.