VietNamNet Bridge - Why does Laos insist on building more hydroelectric dams when Vietnam and many other countries believe that it is not the optimal solution for energy, environmental and societal development?


The question was raised at a workshop on Mekong water security organized by Can Tho University in late May.

Nguyen Nhan Quang, a river basin management expert, and former deputy secretary general of the Vietnam National Mekong Committee (VNMC), said Laos is compared with Switzerland in Indochina with great potential for hydropower development. 

As a developing country, it follows a strategy on building hydropower plants to sell electricity to neighboring countries.

Under the strategy, Laos won’t have to spend money to build plants. Investors will pour capital into the project, and build, operate and transfer to Laos.

While waiting for diplomatic results, Vietnam needs to actively consider possible scenarios while seeking all possible solutions.

However, according to Duong Van Ni from Can Tho University, the benefits to Laos won’t be much because profits will go into investors’ pockets. 

In the long term, it’s not likely that Laos can sell electricity from hydropower plants when the world is shifting to renewable energy sources.

Margita Bostrom from Swedish National Radio, who has been watching over hydropower projects on the Mekong for many years, said that hydropower investors in Laos come from different countries, including China, Thailand and Malaysia, but most of the projects are implemented by Chinese contractors. 

There are up to 31 hydropower dams on the Mekong mainstream in countries in the region. 

“Why do you need so many hydropower works when you have abundant solar energy sources? Why has China been so active in both the role of investor and contractor?” she said, saying that if looking at it from a geo-political view, one can better understand the nature of the matter.


Will Vietnam be able to persuade Laos to stop building the hydropower dams which cause consequences to Vietnam?

According to Ni, many years ago, Vietnam proposed to stop Dong Sahong and Xayabury projects, but Laos continued to develop the projects. By May 2017, about 75 percent of Xayabury workload and 25 percent of Don Xahong workload had been fulfilled, according to International Rivers.

Pereric Hogberg, Swedish Ambassador to Vietnam, said in these circumstances, active diplomacy is a solution that Vietnam needs to apply. 

He said Baltic Sea Action Plan could be a suggested model for Vietnam to consider when building up cooperative relations with regional countries to share benefits from Mekong.

While waiting for diplomatic results, according to Piman Thanapon from the Stockholm Environment Institute in Thailand, Vietnam needs to actively consider possible scenarios while seeking all possible solutions.


Proposed hydropower plant in Laos to affect lower Mekong River in Vietnam

Vietnam urges Laos to rethink Mekong River dams

Dat Viet