The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has kicked off a consultation process on Laos’s latest proposed hydropower project on the mainstream of the river even though the government in Vientiane last week announced a review of dams after the recent disaster.
The MRC’s Joint Committee Working Group (JCWG) for the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) on Wednesday agreed on the starting date for a six-month prior consultation process for the proposed 770-MW Pak Lay hydropower project on the Mekong mainstream.
“The prior consultation will afford the notified countries, the affected communities and related stakeholders an opportunity to review the project and raise their legitimate concerns on adverse cross-border impacts on the environment and people,” said Te Navuth, who chairs the working group.
“It also allows the country proposing the project to better understand such concerns and to identify measures to address them,” he added.
The working group also discussed a proposal by MRC chief executive officer Pham Tuan Phan, to postpone the prior consultation process. This, too, was in light of the announcement from the Lao prime minister the day before the meeting to inspect all dams and suspend the consideration of new investments in hydropower projects in Lao, according to a press statement.
The tragedy at the Xe-Pien Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam in southern Attapeu province in June killed at least 34 people and over 100 went missing.
The Lao delegation agreed that the Lao government will provide official clarification of its latest announcement soon, according to the statement.
The prior consultation is part of the MRC’s procedural rules for cooperation on water use on the Mekong mainstream governed by PNPCA. Under the procedures, all infrastructure projects using the mainstream water during the dry season within the same basin, as well as during the wet season between two basins, must undergo a prior consultation process.
Applicable projects include large-scale irrigation and hydropower developments with the potential to cause significant impacts on the environment, water flow and quality of the Mekong mainstream.
The project is a run-of-river dam proposed for the Pak Lay district of Xayaburi province in northwestern Lao, downstream of the under-construction Xayaburi hydropower station and 241 kilometres upstream of Vientiane. The dam would operate continuously year-round with an annual average generating capacity of 4,124GWh, intended mainly for power generation for domestic supply.
The project’s total investment cost is estimated at $2.1 billion (Bt70 billion) with the construction expected to start in 2022 and the commercial operation to begin when the construction finished in 2029. Power China Resources Ltd is named as the developer, according to the official notification documents from Laos.