Tag: Hydropower and energy

Damning evidence no match for dam pushers

By normal standards, the scrapping of two controversial dams planned in a protected area should have been a done deal by now.

But victories for the environment have become extremely rare in Vietnam in recent years and opponents of the two dams, to be built in the core of the UNESCO-recognized Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, appear to be seeing the writing on the wall.

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Giant Laos dam underway… What’s next?

For those who had believed that Laos would stick to its pledge to shelve construction of the controversial Xayaburi dam, November 7 was a black day. It was on that day that Laos broke ground on the US$3.8-billion project despite vehement objections from environmental groups and its neighbors who said the 810-meter (2,600ft) dam would unleash massive ecological changes on a river that feeds around 60 million people.

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Hydropower lucre hides major fault lines

The controversy over the flawed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done for the Song Tranh Dam, now blamed for causing many tremors and quakes in the central province of Quang Nam since last November, has exposed major problems in the assessment and approval process of such projects.

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Energy companies pledge to measure impacts of large dam projects

Critics say new scorecard to evaluate social and environmental impacts of hydropower projects serves dam builders not local communities.

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Crucial Meeting Tomorrow on Laos’s Xayaburi Dam

Wide-ranging coalition calls for the dam to be cancelled.

A crucial meeting takes place tomorrow in Siem Reap, Cambodia, among the ministers of the Mekong River Commission on whether to proceed with the US$3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam, the first of 11 large dams proposed for the Mekong River.

The dam is opposed by a wide range of NGOs, civil society groups and others who have serious concerns that the dam and its 10 mates will do irrevocable damage to the ecosystem and harm the livelihood of the 60 million people who live in the Mekong River Basin.

The Save the Mekong Coalition, an umbrella group comprised of 39 organizations as well as artists, fishermen, farmers and others, has collected petitions signed by nearly 50,000 people calling on the Thai and Laotian prime ministers to cancel their plans to build the dam. The electricity produced – as much as 1,220 Megawatts — is slated to be purchased by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

The Mekong River Commission is composed of officials from the governments of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. Both Cambodia and Vietnam have raised concerns about the project, warning that environmental damage could ensue.

As the first Mekong mainstream dam to undergo the commission’s prior consultation process, the Xayaburi Dam is likely to set a precedent for how future decisions are made on the 10 other proposed mainstream dams, Save the Rivers noted.

According to the rules of the regional consultation process, the Laotian government must respond to requests for information and must wait for the governments to reach a consensus on whether the project goes forward.

It is questionable whether the protesters have the horsepower to get the dam cancelled. If it were, it would be the second major dam to be blocked in Southeast Asia. The first, totally unexpectedly, was the Myitsone Dam being planned for the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, which was the first concrete indication that the civilian government installed last November was listening to the wishes of its citizens. The cancellation resulted in consternation in China, which was building the structure and planned to take 80 percent of the electricity.

With Laos, however, it’s a different story. The government regards expansion of hydropower and sale across the region to surrounding energy-hungry economies as a tradeoff to increase the poverty-stricken country’s revenues and help to electrify and provide infrastructure for rural parts of the country, which currently are without power.

Environmentalists say the Laotian government isn’t waiting for the Mekong River Commission’s decision. Preparatory work has already begun at the dam site, they say.

“Our message is simple,” said Chhith Sam Ath of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, in a prepared release. “Protecting the Mekong River is vital to ensuring healthy fisheries, abundant agriculture, and supporting the livelihoods and food security of millions of people in the region. As the first hydropower dam proposed for the Mekong River’s mainstream, the dam’s devastating impacts to river’s ecosystem, fisheries, and river-based livelihoods is likely to lead to serious cross-border conflict.”

The project is backed by a flock of major Thai banks and construction companies, particularly Ch. Karnchang, Thailand’s second-largest construction company, which has contracted to build it. Thailand, like most of the growing economies of Asia, is energy-short and sees the Xayaburi Dam as a partial solution to its problems.

The Vietnam National Mekong River Committee, however, is warning that the completed dam could cause a potential decline of 200,000 to 400,000 tons of fish per year as spawning grounds are cut off.

In an effort to influence the commission, the Save the Mekong coalition published three full-page advisements in the Bangkok Post, Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily newspapers, calling on the Prime Ministers of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to reject the proposal to build the dam.

“Numerous scientific reports over the past two years have revealed the risky nature of damming the Mekong River. In view of this mounting evidence, rather than gamble with our future, the Council should lead the region towards a new vision for the river and the region, and carefully reconsider plans to build the mainstream dams” said Trinh Le Nguyen of Vietnam’s People and Nature Reconciliation.

“The Mekong River’s rich resources and the ecosystem services it provides risk passing the point of collapse if the Xayaburi Dam and other mainstream dams are allowed to proceed. It is time for our governments to intervene and ask Laos to cancel plans to build the Xayaburi Dam and for Thailand to refuse to purchase its electricity, so that we still have fish left for the future,” said Ittipol Komesuk, Coordinator of Thailand’s Network of Thai People in eight Mekong Provinces.

“Over the last year, the Xayaburi Dam has divided governments and people,” said Srisuwan Kuankachorn of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance. “We urge regional leaders to take a precautionary approach by issuing a resolution calling for the cancellation of the Xayaburi Dam. In the end, it’s not a technical decision, but a political decision that will reshape politics in this tiny but problematic region of the world.”

Source: Asia Sentinel

The thirst for hydropower plants devastating living environment

People are trying to build more and more hydropower plants to satisfy their thirst for power. However, when power plants are set up, the environment gets degrading and the tourism industry cannot develop.

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Cat Tien environmental assessment full of holes: experts

With hydropower running amok in this country, local critics of neighboring dam projects are throwing stones in a glass house.

A view of the Cat Tien National Park, where two planned hydropower projects, if built, would encroach on around 140 hectares of forest. Conservationists fear that the two planned dams would totally transform the aquatic environments in the park, which straddles Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc and Lam Dong provinces.

A group of scientists who recently visited the site of two upcoming hydropower projects near Cat Tien National Park said they suspected that the projects’ developer was being disingenuous in a recent environmental assessment report which concluded that the impact would be minimal.

The report contained factual errors and downplayed the ecological and environmental risks of the two projects, scientists at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology’s Institute of Tropical Biology said after their one-week trip.

The fact that the project investor, Duc Long Gia Lai Group, funded the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report is considered normal by experts in the field. But the scientists are concerned that the developer has failed to be transparent in its report and has so far gotten away without any meaningful public scrutiny.

“It is a normal… procedure for the developer or project proponent to prepare the EIA… But this approach requires a rigorous public and expert review process prior to finalizing the document to ensure that it is objective and of the highest standard,” said Jeremy Carew-Reid, director the environmental NGO International Center for Environmental Management (ICEM).

“In Vietnam, that opportunity for public input and independent expert review is very limited.”

Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director of Vietnamese environmental nonprofit People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), said legal loopholes have allowed the dam developers to directly select and contract the teams tasked with carrying out the impact studies.

“There’s the chance for them to control the EIA process in a way favorable for their own benefits,” Nguyen said.

But the Southern Institute for Water Resources Planning claimed it had been assigned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to conduct the EIAs of the Dong Nai 6 and Dong Nai 6A dams that, if built, would encroach on around 140 hectares of forest in the Cat Tien National Park.

Either way, the law requires more than just an EIA to be carried out for such a project.

“Most important in this case, if there is more than one dam proposed for the same river, the accumulated impacts of all of the projects should be analyzed together in a Strategic Environmental Assessment before an EIA for each particular project is done,” Carew-Reid said. “This is a requirement under the Vietnam Environmental Protection Law.”

Poor power play

Located just 160 kilometers northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Cat Tien is home to around 1,700 precious plants, including those in the large genus of Dalbergia, and more than 700 species of animals and birds, several of which are endangered. Eleven ethnic minority groups live around the park.

After the discovery of a population of Vietnamese Javan Rhinoceros in 1992, the park was declared a Rhinoceros Reserve and received worldwide attention. The park has also been officially titled a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

Conservationists fear that the two planned dams would totally transform the aquatic environments in the 72,000-hectare park, which straddles Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc and Lam Dong provinces. They also expressed concerns about the livelihood of residents who live in the planned sites of the projects in Lam Dong, Dak Nong and Binh Phuoc provinces.

But in a report sent to the Prime Minister, the Agriculture Ministry said it believed that the two dam projects are “in line with the nation’s power development blueprint and vital to boosting economic growth.”

Vietnam depends on hydropower for about 37 percent of its electricity, followed by gas at 36 percent and coal at 16 percent, according to statistics from the Association of the Electricity Supply Industry of East Asia and the Western Pacific.

Conservationists have, however, cringed at the country’s continued hydropower development binge.

“For many rivers in Vietnam, hydropower is no longer a ‘clean’ and sustainable energy solution when there are too many projects built or planned in a river basin,” PanNature’s Nguyen said. “Hydropower is becoming a factor that distorts the ecosystems, natural flows, and human livelihoods.”

ICEM’s Carew-Reid acknowledged it was understandable that energy developers would promote their products and services and try and maximize development and profits in their sector.

“It is up to the government to ensure that the sector develops in a balanced way and not at the cost of other national interests,” he said. “In Vietnam, that is not happening.”

Where does the buck stop?

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has shrugged off the EIA report done by the developer, saying the fate of two projects would have to be determined by the National Assembly – Vietnam’s legislature – a move that has been welcomed by the environmentalist community.

A National Assembly resolution stated that any projects encroaching on 50 hectares that belong to nature reserves and protected forests must be submitted to the national legislature for debate and approval.

Duong Trung Quoc, a prominent lawmaker, said he would grill the government on these projects at the first session of the newly-installed National Assembly, which commenced Thursday (July 21) in Hanoi.

“But as far as I understand, the house has not set aside any time for debate on this issue at this session,” Quoc said.

Quoc said he hoped lawmakers would have a chance to debate the projects soon, saying he was also “troubled” by plans to forge ahead with the project.

“If we don’t respect and protect the ecosystem and environment of our own nation, we cannot expect other countries to do so to ours,” Quoc said.

By An Dien, Thanh Nien News

Save the Mekong Coalition Calls on ASEAN Leaders: Cancel the Xayaburi Dam

As ASEAN leaders meet for the 18th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Save the Mekong coalition calls on ASEAN leaders to act immediately to cancel the Xayaburi Dam in Lao PDR.

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Vietnamese Opposition Could Sway Lao Hydropower Plans

Vietnamese officials are criticizing the Lao government’s controversial plan to build a dam on the Mekong River. Analysts say opposition from Vietnam and other lower Mekong countries could force Laos to scale back its hydropower ambitions.

The $3.5 billion Xayaburi hydropower dam is the first of 12 dams planned for the lower Mekong. A Thai developer would build the dam, and Thailand would buy most of the 1,260 megawatts of electricity the dam would generate.

Lao officials say the proposed Mekong dams would cut poverty and bolster their land-locked country’s economy.

A Western construction worker surveys ongoing work to build a power plant for
the Nam Theun 2 dam, south of Vientiane, Laos. Photo: Reuters.

Criticism

But Vietnamese officials say the dam would jeopardize water supplies and threaten fishing on the river’s downstream reaches. Their recent comments echoed warnings by environmentalists that the Mekong dams would damage the environment and threaten the livelihoods of people who live near the river.

Analysts say political pressure from Vietnam and its lower Mekong neighbors – Thailand and Cambodia – could force Laos to delay or modify its plans to harness the Mekong’s flow.

Philip Hirsch, a professor of human ecology at the University of Sydney, told VOA that of the lower Mekong countries, Vietnam has so far been most publicly critical of Laos’ hydropower ambitions.

“The interesting question, which I think is very difficult for anyone to answer, is how these two countries, Vietnam and Laos – which are so close – are going to extricate themselves from what at the moment seem to be diametrically opposite positions on the Xayabouri dam,” Hirsch said.

Vietnam and Laos are both one-party states and Hirsch says Vietnam typically influences Lao policy “behind closed doors.” But Hirsch says recent criticism of the Xayabouri proposal by high-ranking Vietnamese officials has been “very public.”

All four lower Mekong countries will be closely watching a recommendation on the dam expected this month from the Joint Committee of the Mekong River Commission, an advisory body formed in 1995 to promote sustainable development along the 4,900-kilometer Mekong system.

Influence

But Hirsch points out that the MRC has no power to force Laos to abandon its plans for the Xayabouri and other Mekong dams.

“The MRC is not a regulatory institution,” Hirsch added. “It’s not a strong agency in that way, it’s one which has always worked on the basis of trying to achieve consensus, and if we’re looking for regulation from the MRC, I think we’re looking in the wrong direction.”

Hirsch says Thailand has vowed to stay neutral in MRC negotiations, which puts the onus on Vietnamese and Cambodian officials to address the Xayabouri dam proposal in discussions with their Lao counterparts.

Trinh Le Nguyen is executive director of the Vietnamese NGO PanNature. He tells VOA that although Laos has final say over the Xayabouri and other Mekong dams, Vietnam may pressure Laos by threatening to not invest in future Mekong hydropower projects.

“Vietnam can decide not to invest or buy anything from [Laos],” Trinh Le Nguyen said. “It’s one of the ways they can have some power.”

In October, an independent study commissioned by the MRC recommended that lower Mekong countries delay decisions on hydropower projects for 10 years, warning that Mekong hydropower dams would exacerbate food insecurity and cause “serious and irreversible” environmental effects.

China, which borders northern Laos, already operates four dams on the upper reaches of the Mekong River.

Source: Voice of America

Save the Mekong Call: Cancel Xayaboury Dam on Mekong River’s mainstream, Halt MRC PNPCA Process

In a letter addressed to Mr. Jeremy Bird, CEO of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the Save the Mekong coalition calls on the Mekong region’s governments to cancel the Xayabouri Dam planned for the Mekong River’s mainstream in Xayabouri Province, Lao PDR, …

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