Russian Firm Steps Up Dam Deal

Plans move ahead for three hydropower dams in southern Laos.
2013-02-06
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A fisherman casts his net on the Mekong River in Laos, May 3, 2012.
AFP

Laos has stepped up plans for three hydropower dams on Mekong River tributaries, updating an eight-year-old deal with a Russian investor to build the projects for U.S. $1.5 billion.

Lao authorities signed a project development agreement with Russia’s Regional Oil for the Sekong 4, Sekong 5, and Nam Kong 1 projects in southern Laos on Friday, solidifying plans in the works since previous deals signed in 2005.

The authorities have developed plans to relocate people from the dam sites in Sekong and Attapeu provinces.

The projects, set to be completed by 2014, will displace over 7,000 villagers from their homes.

An official from Laos’s Ministry of Energy and Mines told RFA’s Lao Service that the previous project development agreements were not complete and the new deal gives the company a 30-year land concession to build the dams.

He said the three dams have a combined capacity of 822 megawatts and most of the power generated will be exported to Thailand with the rest reserved for local use.

On Friday, Regional Oil also signed an agreement with Thailand’s state energy enterprise, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), to jointly develop the projects.

Resource-starved Laos is aiming to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia by selling hydroelectric power to its neighbors.

But it has come under fire for plowing ahead on the Xayaburi dam, the first dam across the main stem of the Mekong River, without first getting regional consensus from downstream neighbors concerned about the project’s transboundary impact.

Laos has a total of over 70 dams under construction or in the planning or considerations stages, many of them on waters flowing into the Mekong, a key regional artery.

Sekong and Nam Kong

The Sekong 4 and 5 will be built on the Sekong River, an important tributary for the Mekong, and the Nam Kong 1 will dam waters flowing into the Sekong.

Global green group International Rivers has said the effects of the two Sekong dams will be felt as far as the mainstream Mekong in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

It also predicts the Sekong 4, the largest of the three, will lead to a sharp decline in fisheries that will significantly affect local livelihoods.

The Sekong 4 hydropower project, with a capacity of 300 to 600 megawatts, will displace 4,458 people from 18 villages in Sekong province’s Kaleum district. A new Kaleum town will be made (30 kilometers) further east.

The Sekong 5, with a capacity of 330 megawatts, will displace 2,735 people from 25 villages.

The Nam Kong 1 will have a capacity of 75 megawatts. The number of people it will directly affect is not known.

The dates when each of the dams will begin operation is expected to be announced by the end of 2013.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.