Green group targets Laos hydro project

Green group targets Laos hydro project

Activists petition court in bid to halt Pak Beng

Environmental activists hold up pictures of natural resources and activities of people living in communities along the Mekong River, outside the Administrative Court yesterday. They fear these resources and activities will be adversely affected by the planned construction of the Pak Beng hydropower plant on the river in Laos. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul
Environmental activists hold up pictures of natural resources and activities of people living in communities along the Mekong River, outside the Administrative Court yesterday. They fear these resources and activities will be adversely affected by the planned construction of the Pak Beng hydropower plant on the river in Laos. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

An environmental advocacy group has filed a petition with the Administrative Court against three parties over their roles in the Pak Beng hydropower plant project, which the group fears will result in a negative impact on communities along the Mekong River.

Niwat Roikaew, president of the Rak Chiang Khong group, said the ultimate aim of the petition is to stop the hydropower plant project that is due to be constructed later this year in Oudomxay province in northern Laos.

The Pak Beng project is designed to be a "run-of-river" hydroelectricity-type power plant with electricity generating capacity of 912 megawatts, he said, adding that the project is operated by China Datang Overseas Investment Co.

Run-of-river hydroelectricity is a kind of hydroelectric generation plant whereby little or no water storage is provided. Such power plants may have no water storage at all or a limited amount, in which case the storage reservoir is referred to as pondage. A plant without pondage has no water storage and is, therefore, subject to seasonal river flows. Thus, the plant will operate as an intermittent energy source while a plant with pondage can regulate its water flow at all times and can serve as a peaking power plant or base load power plant.

The power plant is scheduled to begin supplying electricity in 2023, Mr Niwat said.

According to an informed source, Electricity Generating Plc (Egco), a subsidiary of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), holds a 30% stake in this project.

The Department of Water Resources (DWR), in its capacity as secretary to the Thai National Mekong Committee, organised four public forums in three provinces to distribute information about the Pak Beng hydropower plant project, but many people found this to be insufficient, said Mr Niwat.

Still, an important question left unanswered is what the negative impact of the power plant construction might be on people in nearby countries, he said, adding that the planned location of the power plant is only about 92 kilometres from the Thai border in Chiang Rai's Wiang Kaen district.

Many communities in Wiang Kaen, Chiang Khong and Chiang Saen districts of Chiang Rai are expected to be affected by the hydropower plant that will cause water levels in the Mekong to rise by about 10 metres, he said.

"Interestingly, even the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning [Onep] has commented that only old information was used in the environmental impact analysis in this project," he said.

"That may not be sufficient as several Mekong development projects have been carried out recently, which may make the analysis outdated," he added.

The Rak Chiang Khong group, therefore, asked in its petition for the court to rule that any actions carried out by the director-general of the DWR, the DWR, and the Thai National Mekong Committee in relation to the power plant project are illegitimate, he said.

The court is also therefore requested to invalidate the results of the public hearings conducted under the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and all other processes related to the Pak Beng project undertaken in Thailand and whose results were submitted to the MRC, he said.

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