The Mekong River Commission (MRC) announced on 1 October that the Lao Government will undertake the MRC’s prior consultation process for the 1460 MW Luang Prabang hydropower project.
“With this submission for prior consultation, the Lao Government fulfils its obligation under the 1995 Mekong Agreement. The submission will enable the notified member countries and members of the public to have detailed information and study the project’s water use and any impact stemming from this,” said An Pich Hatda, CEO of the MRC Secretariat.
In its notification submitted to the MRC Secretariat in July 2019, the Lao Government says the project’s construction is expected to begin in 2020 and finish in 2027, the year commercial operation is also set to begin. The generated energy may be sold to Thailand and/or Vietnam. The Luang Prabang project will comprise an 80 m-high, 275 m-long dam with a main powerhouse equipped with seven 200 MW units and an auxiliary unit of 60 MW. It is to be developed by Luang Prabang Power Company, a company established by the Lao Government and Petrovietnam Power Corporation under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2007.
The prior consultation is part of the MRC’s procedural rules on cooperation on water use of the Mekong mainstream. Under the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), any infrastructural project using mainstream water during the dry season within the same basin, as well as during the wet season between two basins, must undergo the prior consultation process. Applicable projects include large-scale irrigation and hydropower development, which may cause significant impacts on the environment, water flow and quality of the Mekong mainstream.
In the prior consultation process, with technical and administrative support from the MRC Secretariat, the MRC’s governing body joint committee (JC) will review technical aspects of the project, assess any potential transboundary impacts on the environment and livelihoods along the riparian communities, and suggest measures to address those concerns. The JC aims to come to an agreement on how the consulted case should proceed. The prior consultation process normally lasts six months, but could be extended further by the JC. It is not meant to approve or disapprove the proposed project. In the notification, Lao PDR provided the technical feasibility study, including the project’s environmental and social impact assessments, cumulative and transboundary environmental impact assessment, environmental and social management and monitoring plans, a resettlement development plan, and engineering documents. According to MRC procedures, after the submission, the MRC Secretariat has to review and verify the completeness of the submitted documents against the prior consultation procedures during the allowable timeframe given by the PNPCA. With the completion of the initial document verification, the Secretariat has forwarded all the submitted documents to the other three notified countries for their review and has now made them, along with supplementary project overview and communication materials, available on the MRC website to facilitate a more meaningful consultation process.