A Thai official said yesterday that the country would move ahead with plans to buy electricity generated from the proposed Xayaburi dam in Laos if it is built, despite concerns expressed about the controversial project during a regional meeting this week.
Burachat Buasuwan, permanent secretary general of the Thai Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said yesterday that Thailand was awaiting a response from Laos, which is set to make a final decision on whether the US$3.8 billion dam will go ahead.
“If the Lao government said they can continue, it’s OK, we will sign the [power purchasing] agreement,” he said, adding that final approval to buy electricity from Xayaburi would come from the Thai Ministry of Energy.
Thailand is expected to buy the majority of the energy from the hydropower scheme, the first such proposal for the Mekong mainstream.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that Thailand’s energy plan includes the Xayaburi dam, but any decisions on power purchasing would have to wait for a decision from a Mekong River Commission meeting expected later this year.
Government ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are expected to determine whether to end discussion through the MRC on the proposed dam later this year, after Tuesday’s meeting on Xayaburi ended in disagreement.
At that meeting, the Thai delegation joined with Cambodia and Vietnam in calling for an extension of regional talks on the dam, pointing out numerous concerns raised by Thai stakeholders.
Laos, however, insisted that the regional consultation process was over.
Xayaburi has drawn international concern over its potential environmental impact as well as strong criticism from Vietnam, which has said all mainstream dams should be delayed 10 years if not cancelled.
The decision to build the dam, however, is Laos’ and the MRC has no authority to block the project.
Laos has listed the dam as “under construction” according to its Ministry of Energy and Mines’ Department of Energy Promotion and Development. It has reportedly allowed major road construction to begin.
Thai energy officials were quoted in the Bangkok Post yesterday as saying that the severe impact of the dam predicted by environmentalists and international experts alike has not been proven, adding that they would consult the dam’s environmental impact assessment.