Mekong River Commission provides updates on Luang Prabang and Sanakham consultation plans

10 June 2020

A drawing of the proposed Sanakham hydropower project. Courtesy of Datang (Lao) Sanakham Hydropower Co. Ltd.

The prior consultation process of the 1460MW Luang Prabang hydropower on the Mekong mainstream will now be concluded on 30 June 2020, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has announced, with prior consultation to start on the 684MW Sanakham project once this is complete.

During the Special Session of the MRC Joint Committee (JC) the decision was made to move back the conclusion date almost three months to allow more time for Member Countries to discuss and agree on recommended measures to avoid, minimise and mitigate potential cross-border adverse impacts from the Luang Prabang project.    

“Due to concerns and suggestions raised by Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam and other Mekong stakeholders and with the agreement from Lao PDR, we’ve decided to move the conclusion date of the Luang Prabang prior consultation process to June 30,” Dr Somkiat Prajamwong, Chairperson of the MRC JC for 2020 and Chairperson of the Meeting, said. “The move is to also allow for a more meaningful conclusion of the prior consultation by ensuring that well-rounded comments and recommendations are provided to Lao PDR for their due consideration in addressing potential transboundary negative impacts resulting from the dam.”

In July last year, the Lao government submitted the Luang Prabang project as a intra-basin water use for the main channel of the Mekong River, which is subject to undergoing the MRC’s prior consultation process. The six-month process officially started on 8 October 2019 and was scheduled to conclude on April 7. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the MRC’s governance body JC was only able to meet on 4 June. 

The Luang Prabang dam is the fifth project that has been put forward to the MRC’s prior consultation process. Located about 25km from Luang Prabang town, the project will be developed by the Luang Prabang Power Company Limited — a company established by the Lao government and PetroVietnam Power Corporation under their 2007 MOU.

During the 4 June meeting, the Joint Committee also stated the prior consultation process for the Sanakham hydropower project will take place once the Luang Prabang consultation has reached its conclusion.  

The Lao government submitted the 684MW Sanakham project for prior consultation process on 9 September 2019, shortly after its submission of the Luang Prabang project. But as the consultation of the Luang Prabang was still ongoing at the time, the JC decided to look at the Sanakham project in June or after the end of the Luang Prabang’s case, to allow for a more thorough examination.  

The Sanakham dam’s proposed site is located some 155km north of Vientiane and is estimated to cost $2.073 billion. It will be developed by Datang (Lao) Sanakham Hydropower company, a subsidiary of China’s Datang International Power Generation Co. Ltd.

The MRC’s prior consultation process obligates an open sharing of extensive data, information and assessment reports of major national infrastructure projects on the Mekong mainstream, independent reviews by the MRC and stakeholders, consideration and improvements in the project design, and joint monitoring to track impacts that need to be addressed as part of adaptive management.

It aims to strike a balance between development needs and environmental and social protection.

“All of these aim to keep the proposing country engaged and accountable. The absence of the MRC and the prior consultation process would allow projects on the Mekong mainstream that may have significant transboundary effects to proceed without extensive information sharing or review by the public,” Dr An Pich Hatda, the Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretarait, said at the meeting.

Dr Somkiat Prajamwong, the Chairperson of the MRC JC for 2020 and Chairperson of the Meeting, addresses the meeting from Bangkok via teleconferencing.

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