Laos has contracted firms to build and operate another significant hydropower plant on the Mekong River system, adding to the existing furore over potential effects on downstream countries such as Cambodia from the controversial Xayaburi dam.
The contracts, reportedly worth $1 billion, are for a series of three dams making up the Xe-Namnoy plant on two tributaries of the Se Kong River, which flows into the Mekong from the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos – just some 100 kilometres from Cambodia.
Because of this close proximity, communities on the Cambodian-Lao border would feel particularly acute downstream affects; however, since no impact assessments of the project had been made public, this was hard to measure, conservation group International Rivers warned yesterday.
Sang Lee, an employee from the architectural department of South Korean firm SK Engineering & Construction, which has been contracted to build the dams, confirmed yesterday that project details were now being ironed out ahead of construction.
“As far as I know, they’re trying to arrange finances, and at this stage, they are working on technical documents,” he said. “I’m not so sure about when construction will start.”
Lee asked for further questions to be emailed so they could be answered by someone handling the project. A response was not immediately received.
Tania Lee, Lao program coordinator at International Rivers, said the plant would have potentially severe but unclear impacts on hydrological flow, fishing and food security.
“The major lack of any information is a huge problem, because we don’t know if the environmental impact assessment has been done or a social impact assessment has done,” she said.
The Laos government’s failure to publicly release such assessments violates the country’s own laws regulating development projects, yet despite this, an international lender was considering granting a loan for the project, she added.
In total, Lee said, Laos planned to build more than 70 dams on various tributaries of the Mekong and was now constructing eight dams on the Xe Kaman and Xe Kong rivers dams with about 15 planned for the Sekong River Basin and seven on the Nam Ou river in the north.
The Xe-Namnoy plant will generate an estimated 400 megawatts of electricity from water flowing from a height of 630 metres, according to the website of the firm Team Group, which is providing consulting services for the project.
As is the case with Xayaburi, Laos is planning on selling significant amounts of the power generated by the dam – 90 per cent – to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, Team Group’s website states.
EGAT, which has resisted pressure from conservation groups to cancel its power purchase agreement for the 1,285 megawatt Xayaburi dam because of the predicted environmental havoc it will wreak, did not respond to inquires from the Post yesterday.
An SK Construction spokesman estimated Laos would earn about $30 million annually from fees and taxes, Agence France Presse has reported.
South Korean state-run firm Korean Western Power will operate the dam until 2045, when control will be handed over to Laos, according to AFP.
Officials at the Lao Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment could not be reached and Mao Hak, Cambodia’s director of river work at the Ministry of Water Resources, declined to comment, because he was not aware of the project.