Laos as Southeast Asia’s Battery – Too Many Contact Points?

Via Terra Daily, interesting details of the plans of mountainous Laos, one of Asia’s poorest nations, to exploit its hydropower potential to become the “battery of Southeast Asia” and sell electricity to its more industrialised neighbours Vietnam and Thailand.  While the focus of the article is primarily over the potential environmental and freshwater impact a series of dams may have upon the Mekong basin, the likely national and political implications that such a Mekong cascade project would entail are given little treatment.  With the Mekong passing through several of the world’s fastest growing economies with large-scale populations, it is highly likely that Laos will feel more pressure in the years ahead than at present on how this may evolve.  As the article notes:

“…Energy-hungry Vietnam is planning to build a two-billion-dollar mega-dam on the Mekong river of Laos and to construct several other large hydropower projects in the neighbouring country. Vietnam’s main energy company expects to wrap up a feasibility study by April for a dam near Luang Prabang, the former Lao royal capital, that would dwarf existing dams in the landlocked country, state media has reported.

But the plans for new Mekong dams by Vietnamese as well as Chinese and Thai companies have alarmed environmentalists, who say the projects will devastate the major Asian waterway that runs from Tibet to southern Vietnam.

They have warned that the planned mega-dams would displace tens of thousands of people, harm the fragile river ecology and endanger species such as the rare Mekong giant catfish and Irrawaddy dolphin.

Vietnam — whose economic growth surged to 8.4 percent this year and power demand is rising at twice that rate — has few rivers left to dam and is looking at the hydropower potential of its communist ally Laos.

Laos now operates fewer than 10 dams but is considering about 70 more projects. The largest now under construction is the French and Thai-built Nam Theun 2, set to go into operation in late 2009.

…Only China has so far dammed the river, known in Chinese as the Lancang, while lower-Mekong countries have built hydropower projects on tributaries of the 4,800-kilometre (2,980-mile) long waterway.

China is planning eight Mekong dams totaling over 16,000 MW, of which two have been built and four are under construction, potentially impacting riverside communities in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Vietnamese companies in Laos also plan to start building the 400-million-dollar 290 MW Xekaman I dam next year, set for completion by 2012, state media has reported.

Another dam, the 270-million-dollar, 250 MW Xekaman 3, is now under construction and set to transfer power across the border by 2009, while three more dam projects are now being studied, said the Vietnam News Agency….”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 1st, 2008 at 3:04 pm and is filed under Hydro dams, Laos, Mekong River, Thailand, Vietnam.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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