Xayaburi Dam: What Lies Behind
20-25 mins. (DVD) with English language narration and subtitles
Final film scheduled for release: April 2013
The US$3.5 billion (107 billion baht) Xayaburi Dam along the Lower Mekong, if built, would irreversibly change the ecology of the Mekong River, and threaten the fisheries and food security of millions of people in the Mekong region and beyond.
The first of a planned series of mainstream dams on the Mekong River, the dam is a joint development between the Government of Laos (GoL) and Thailand’s construction company Ch. Karnchang. Thailand’s Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has agreed to purchase 1,220 MW of electricity at a cost of 2.159 Baht per kilowatt-hour.
The Finnish Pöyry PLC (Publicly Listed Company) and its subsidiary Poyry Energy AG, one of the leading international consultant firms is involved as a consultant hired to do the impact assessment. Poyry has portrayed itself as a pioneer of green and sustainable economy with a slogan “Preparing the Plant”.
Although the social and ecological impacts of the dam could be huge and extending all the way to the Vietnam delta, the information and decision-making process appears less than transparent and the centralized energy-planning model is a point of controversy. Even before discussions went underway, Laos had started extensive construction work in preparation for building the dam.
For instance, the Pöyry study gave the green light for the project. But the Mekong River Commission (MRC) panel of experts declared in their Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) that the dam would disrupt the flow and likely affect fish habitats and life cycles. More than 200 species are found in this part of the river and the catch is estimated at 40,000 to 60,000 tonnes per year.
The SEA panel specifically recommended that a “10-year deferral be placed for mainstream hydropower development … to ensure that the necessary conditions to strengthen understanding of the natural systems as well as management and regulatory processes are conducted effectively”.
The film aims to:
1) give a human face for the project and its impacts so that people in different countries could relate to it and understand its importance
2) enable people to be heard that are normally less visible and/or underrepresented in the decision making
3) examine the international global linkages (Laos-Thailand-Finland) and the role and responsibilities of international actors such as consultant companies.
The film will highlight five critical questions and issues:
1) How transparent is the decision-making over the dam? What kinds of information are used to justify (consultants reports) and what is being missed (perspectives of fishers and others dependent on the river).
2) Is this dam necessary for electricity; whom does the hydropower benefit? Do Thailand’s existing energy plans mostly serve the interests of the state-owned electricity utility, energy companies, and the construction industry, rather than the needs of the regions’ electricity consumers?
3) What is the role and responsibilities of international actors/global linkages such as consultant companies in the region? For example: Pöyry is a company of significant national importance to Finland and it has portrayed itself as the pioneer of green and sustainable economy. How does this image match with its role in the Mekong dam projects (Xayaburi also Nam Ngum 2 and Yali)?
4) How sound is the energy planning of EGAT (Thailand) and Laos? Is EGAT’s energy planning part of the problem as it heavily promotes the development of new large-scale electricity generation plants, such as fossil-fuel fired power stations and hydropower dams, increasingly locking Thailand and the region into a “centralized electricity supply model”.
5) The impacts of the dam on the Mekong fisheries and the importance of capture fish to the people in the region.