The Mekong doesn’t need more destructive dams

On 11 May, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) announced that the proposed Sanakham hydropower project in Laos will undergo the MRC’s Prior Consultation process. Sanakham is the sixth mainstream dam to be submitted for Prior Consultation.

The proposed Sanakham dam is expensive, unnecessary and risky — and should be cancelled. The 684MW dam would cost over $2 billion (63 billion baht) and take eight years to build. If averaged out over eight years, the Sanakham dam would be adding 90MW a year, which pales in comparison to the installation of more sustainable energy options being rolled out in the region. For example, between April and July 2019, neighbouring Vietnam added 4,400MW from solar, which is more than six times the installed capacity of Sanakham dam.

With the rapidly changing landscape in power sector technologies and investments, there is a risk that large hydropower projects like Sanakham dam, which take several years to build and require the majority of financing up-front, will become stranded assets. Risks are compounded by climate change and existing hydropower projects upstream, which are making water flows and levels more unpredictable, which in turn will impact on the amount of electricity generated by Sanakham and other mainstream dams.

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