Mekong River, Luang Prabang

Formal Consultation announced for Luang Prabang dam, the fifth of the Lower Mekong

The generated electricity may be sold to Thailand and (or) Viet Nam, said the Mekong river’s regulating body, MRC.

The intergovermental organisation, Mekong River Commission ( MRC), acting as the Mekong river’s regulating body and a facilitation platform for the process, has announced that the Lao Government will undertake the MRC guided prior consultation process for the Luang Prabang hydropower project, located between the proposed Pak Beng project on the upstream and the nearly completed downstream Xayaburi project, the first built on the Lower Mekong.

To be exect, it would be located at the Houygno village of Luang Prabang province, about 25 km from Luang Prabang town, the world’s popular World Heritage Site, and approximately 2,036 km from the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam. 

The powerhouse barrage will be 275 meters long, 80 meters high and 97 meters wide. 

The run-of-the-river dam will operate continuously year-round and produce 1,460 MW of electricity, the organisation said.

The MRC said Laos had submmitted the notification to the MRC Secretariat on 31 July 2019.

It has provided the technical feasibility study, including the project’s environmental and social impact assessments, cumulative and transboundary environmental impact assessment, environmental and social management and monitoring plans, a resettlement development plan, and engineering documents. 

It also notes in the same document that the project’s construction is expected to begin in 2020 and finish in 2027.

The year of the commercial operation is also set to begin, with the generated electricity that may be sold to Thailand and/or Viet Nam, the MRC said.

“With this submission for prior consultation, the Lao Government fulfills its obligation under the 1995 Mekong Agreement. The submission will enable the notified Member Countries and members of the public to have detailed information and study the project’s water use and any impact stemming from this,” says Dr. An Pich Hatda, CEO of the MRC Secretariat. 

Fishing boat, Mekong River, Luang Prabang
(Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)

The prior consultation is part of the MRC’s procedural rules on cooperation on water use of the Mekong mainstream, Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA). 

Under the Procedures, any infrastructural project “using the mainstream water during the dry season within the same basin”, as well as “during the wet season between two basins”, must undergo the prior consultation process. 

Applicable projects include large-scale irrigation and hydropower development which may cause significant impacts on the environment, water flow and quality of the Mekong mainstream. 

Under the prior consultation process which would be soon kickstarted, the MRC’s Joint Committee (JC) will review technical aspects of the project, assess “any potential transboundary impacts” on the environment and livelihoods along the riparian communities, and suggest measures to address those concerns. 

The JC aims to come to an agreement on how the consulted case should proceed. 

The prior consultation process normally lasts six months, but could be extended further by the JC, the MRC said. 

This is not meant to approve or disapprove the proposed project, the body stressed.

“The working and continual improvement of the MRC’s PNPCA process is seen around the world as an example of international water law in action,” Dr. Hatda defended.

“…We’re ready to facilitate discussion, provide science-based and objective views and further submit any recommendations on the proposed project to the Joint Committee,” says Dr. Hatda. “We’re also committed to maintaining the same level of openness and transparency to the public throughout the process.”

Until now, 48 projects on the Mekong have been submitted for the Notification process under the PNPCA: three projects from Cambodia, 30 from Lao PDR, two from Thailand and 13 from Viet Nam. 

New Year festival, Luang Prabang, Mekong River
(Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad)

In addition to the Luang Prabang submission, four other projects including the Xayaburi, Don Sahong, Pak Beng and Pak Lay have so far been proposed on the Mekong mainstream in Lao PDR and thus submitted for the prior consultation process. 

According to the submitted documents, the Luang Prabang Power Company Limited, a Vietnamese company established by the PetroVietnam Power Corporation, is named as the developer. But no project’s cost is indicated. 

The MRC Joint Committee Working Group (JCWG), is scheduled to meet on October 8 to discuss key issues around the prior consultation process of the project, including the starting date of the six-month process, the body said.

Dam construction has long been a highly charged issue of the Mekong region as the dams are subject to strong opposition by conservationists, who claim they have sent severe impacts on the environment and people’s livelihoods, inspite of having procedures in place to deal with potential adverse impacts.

The PNPCA itself has been strongly blasted as ineffective mechanism.

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