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Laos’ sixth Mekong dam plans submitted

Laos’ sixth Mekong dam plans submitted

Laos has submitted plans to build a new hydropower dam on the Mekong River, with construction scheduled to begin later this year, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) said in a press release on Monday.

The Sanakham hydropower project has an estimated cost of $2.073 billion, $27.7 million of which will be allocated for environmental and social mitigation measures and monitoring programmes, said the MRC.

The MRC is an inter-governmental organisation established in 1995 that “works directly with the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to jointly manage the shared water resources and the sustainable development of the Mekong River”.

Listed as developer is Datang Sanakham Hydropower Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned Datang International Power Generation Co.

The project is part of the Lao government’s plan to export around 20GW of electricity to its neighbours by 2030, which centres chiefly on hydropower development.

During the 2020-2030 period, the Thai government expects to import about 9GW of electricity from Laos, Cambodia about 6GW, Vietnam about 5GW, Myanmar about 300MW and Malaysia about 300MW, Vientiane Times reported the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines as saying. Singapore is currently engaged in trade negotiations for electricity imports.

Laos has completed two dams on the Mekong River, the 1.285GW Xayaburi Dam in October and the 260MW Don Sahong Dam in January.

Sanakham’s proposed site is located 155km north of Lao capital Vientiane and is projected to produce 684MW of electricity once the project is online in 2028. It will stand 58m high and 350m long, and comprise 12 turbines, each which produce 57MW of electricity.

The Sanakham dam is the sixth project – out of nine planned mainstream Mekong dams inside Laos – that has been put forward to the prior consultation process with the MRC.

The Sanakham project will have to go through an MRC prior consultation process, which normally lasts for six months. The MRC Joint Committee Working Group is set to meet on June 16 to discuss key issues.

Other MRC members can review the project, assess any cross-border impact and study sediments and fisheries.

While they can suggest changes, as stipulated by the Procedure for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement, the consultation process “is neither a right to veto the proposed use nor a unilateral right to use water by any member country without taking into account the others’ rights and concerns”.

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