Laos Officially Approves Controversial Dam Project

Cambodia Construction News Laos Vietnam

Image Credit: Flickr / Prince Roy

Laos’ parliament has approved the concession agreement for a controversial dam project, with construction expected to begin before the end of 2015, media sources reported earlier this week.

As I wrote in a previous piece for The Diplomat, the proposed 260-megawatt Don Sahong hydropower project is critical part of the Lao government’s hopes to transform the country into “the battery of Southeast Asia,” with revenues generated from exporting power to neighboring countries. But the other three neighboring countries in the lower Mekong – Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – have repeatedly called for construction to be halted because they fear the project will dramatically alter the flow of the Mekong River and disrupt the migration of fish to the detriment of downstream communities in neighboring countries (See: “Laos Dam Risks Damaging Mekong River, Igniting Tensions With Vietnam”).

On September 1, according to The Phnom Penh Post, Daovong Phonekeo, director general of the Energy Policy and Planning Department at the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines, confirmed in an email statement that the National Assembly had approved the concession agreement for the Don Sahong dam with Malaysian developer MegaFirst. He added that a power purchase agreement between state-owned Electricite du Laos and the company was awaiting signature and construction would begin before the year ends.

The move further confirms what many have feared – that despite several protests, delays and adjustments, the Lao government is determined to eventually complete the Don Sahong project. In June, Laos and its neighbors failed to reach agreement on the dam through the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a body designed to facilitate inter-governmental consultations before the construction of new dams. The MRC said the matter would be referred to governments to resolve through diplomatic channels, which some read as a further blow to sub-regional consensus.

The Don Sahong dam is the second project to undergo the MRC’s process of prior consultation following the 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi dam located on the mainstream of the Mekong River in Laos.