Rethink 'Asia battery' plan

Rethink 'Asia battery' plan

Two years ago this month, the villagers of Attapeu in southern Laos encountered their worst nightmare when the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydropower dam, which was under construction, failed. Massive torrents of water swept through several villages, causing 71 deaths, heavy damage to properties and left around 7,000 homeless.

The sight of villagers waiting on top of roofs waiting for rescue workers made headlines around the world.

The dam project is a joint-venture among investors from South Korea, Thailand and Laos. About 86% of the electricity generated from the dam was to be sold to Thailand under a 27-year power purchase agreement. The rest was reserved for Lao state enterprises.

There are reports that people affected by the dam's failure are still struggling because compensation promised by Lao authorities and the dam developers has been delayed. This situation is tough as the villagers lost all they had: houses, crops, and livestock in the massive flood.

While the 410-megawatt hydropower dam has been operating since late last year, a new housing project pursued by the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company (PNPC) for affected villagers is not yet complete, and there are reports that many villagers are still living in makeshift shelters.

Under such circumstances, they are unable to resume their normal lives, go back to their farms, and earn a living on their own. Instead, they continue to depend on assistance, while health is another major problem for them.

With Laos under state control with its one-party system, outsiders have heard little of the villagers' grievances. But they do exist.

Considering the significant Thai involvement in the dam project, Thais should feel some moral responsibility and show solidarity with their troubled neighbours whose livelihoods have been sacrificed to help the Lao government realise its ambitious plan to make the landlocked country "the battery of Asia". This plan will see many villagers relocated, and even without another catastrophe like the Xe-Pian collapse, many will face hardship.

Thai consumers should do their best to speak up for these people, and better yet monitor dam development projects to make sure that Thai partners or investors act transparently, the principle of good governance is respected by all, and that power development is based on fairness.

The Xi-Pian Xe Namnoy project is a prime example of a lack of good governance in the energy sector in this country. It's well known that the country has a huge power generation surplus capacity reserved -- currently near 45%. The standard reserve margin of energy for the sake of energy security is around 15% of the highest demand.

Such a massive surplus is a result of bad economic planning, yet agencies concerned seem reluctant to address the problem, and more energy projects are being proposed. Meanwhile, the cost of excessive amounts of energy generated by dubious energy purchase contracts, which allow developers to sell on unused electricity, are pushed onto unsuspecting consumers.

To put in bluntly, with regard to the massive energy reserve margin, Thailand has no need for electricity from this controversial dam and other projects in the pipeline. It's time consumers became aware about such practices to protect their rights and those of underprivileged villagers such as those in Laos being forced to sacrifice their livelihoods.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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