Laos Government should consult Mekong River Commission (MRC) on the construction of a new hydropower project which is projected to begin late this year, said Vietnamese senior state officials at a recent press conference of the 2nd MRC Summit 2014 in Ho Chi Minh City.
Laos officially announced its plan to build the 260MW Don Sahong hydropower project on the river in October last year, the second move after the Southeast Asian country publicized its plan to build Xayaburi hydropower project on the Mekong River in November 2012.
When asked by Tom Fawthrop, the English collaborator of the UK magazine The Economist, at the conference held to conclude the 4-day event, Nguyen Minh Quang, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment said Laos should consult with other MRC members again about the project before taking any move.
"Though already being informed by Lao side that work on the project will be started by the end of this year, both the Vietnamese and Cambodian sides have agreed that Laos should comply with the 1995 MRC Mekong Agreement," Quang said.
According to the agreement, all MRC member countries should consult with the remaining MRC members when they want to build a new hydropower project on the mainstream of the Mekong River, and in this case it is the Don Sahong project, Quang added.
“In addition, we [Vietnamese and Cambodian governments] also recommended Laos only to begin work on the project after new rules comes into effect. The new rules will be released as soon as the environmental assessments of hydropower plants on the mainstream of the river jointly conducted by the three countries for the period ending by 2015 complete,” he said.
“In the yesterday meeting between Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Cambodian and Laotian counterparts, Prime Minister Dung and Prime Minister Hun Sen also suggested Laos to reconsider the recommendation of Vietnam and Cambodia,” Quang said.
“We think that Laos have taken our recommendations very seriously,” Ha Kim Ngoc, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said at the conference.
“Laos officials have told us that as they carried out the hydropower plants on the mainstream of the Mekong River, they weigh both the benefits those project may bring to Lao people and the side effects on Cambodian and Vietnamese people very carefully."
"Once they find that the side effects are greater than expectation, they will surely adjust the projects [to fit with the new circumstance],” he added.
“The Lao Government has notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to proceed with the development of the Don Sahong Hydropower Project in the Siphandone area of Southern Laos.
The run-of-the-river dam will operate continuously year-round and produce 260 megawatts of electricity. In its notification, submitted to the MRC Secretariat and dated 30 September 2013, Lao PDR also provided the complete technical feasibility study , including the project’s social and environmental impact assessments and fisheries study which will be shared with the other MRC Member Countries—Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
According to the Government of Lao PDR, the project’s construction is expected to start in November 2013 and finish by February 2018. The commercial operation is set to begin in May 2018. The energy generated by the project will be fully sold to the national power utility, Electricite du Laos (EDL), to supply the increased domestic power demand.”
(Press release dated 3rd Oct 2013 on the official MRC website)