July 14, 1997
Vientiane, Laos — Laos is determined to go ahead with the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric dam and urged the international community to support the $1.5 billion project. “Nam Theun 2 dam is the best for Laos. The international community should give support to the project as it will be implemented with great care being given to environmental and social impacts,” said Khammone Phonekeo, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft at the end of a week-long workshop, titled “Third National Public Consultation”, which ended Saturday.
He said if people from the other countries listened to the voice of the Laotian people, they would certainly hear that the Laotians wanted the project to uplift their living standard.
None of the non-governmental organisations which took part in the workshop voiced opposition to the project.
The 680-megawatt hydroelectric dam will be built across the Nam Theun River which is a tributary of the mighty Mekong. About 450 square kilometres of land in Nakai plateau, or 40 percent of the area, will be flooded and between 800-1,000 families will have to be resettled.
Located some 250 km south of Vientiane, the Nam Theun 2 dam is a build-own-operate-transfer project to be developed by the Laotian government in collaboration with Nam Theun 2 Electricity Consortium (NTEC) which involves Transfield Corp, Electricite de France and three Thai firms – Italian-Thai Development Plc, Jasmine International Plc and Phatra Thanakit Company.
NTEC holds 75 percent stake in the project and the rest is held by the Laotian government which will assume full onwership of the dam after 25 years. Most of the electricity generated will be exported to Thailand, starting 2004.
Thailand currently imports 195 megawatts of electricity from Laos – 150 megawatts from Nam Ngum dam and 45 megawatts from Xeset dam.
For landlocked Laos, export of electricity is its main source of foreign exchange. It expects to earn $250 million a year by selling electricity generated by Nam Theun 2 dam.
Mr Khammone ruled out fears that economic slowdown in Thailand would affect the power purchase from Nam Theun 2.
Despite Laos’s determination, a green light is yet to come from the World Bank which is the major source of funding for the dam.
To convince the World Bank, Laos is obliged to submit independent studies assuring that the project complies with economic, social and environmental standards.
Independent studies by research teams were presented at the workshop last week for comments from NGOs after which the Laotian government will compile a report and submit it to the World Bank.
At the workshop, there was a suggestion that the height of the dam should be lowered to minimise adverse social and environmental impacts. Also, it was suggested that several smaller dams instead of one big dam should be built.
But NTEC insisted that downsizing the dam may affect the feasibility of the entire project.
A representative of the World Bank, Ms Kathryne McPhail, said she could not give a definite answer now whether the bank would approve the project.
But she insisted that the project must meet all the guidelines set by the bank. She added that the bank would take a couple of months to study all the related findings before coming up with an answer.
Categories: Mekong Utility Watch