The Pak Lay hydropower project is proposed on the Mekong mainstream in Pak Lay district, Xayaburi province, in north-western Lao PDR. The proposed project sits downstream of the currently under-construction Xayaburi hydropower station and is 241 kilometers upstream of Vientiane, the capital city of Lao PDR.

The run-of-river dam will operate continuously year-round and produce 770 megawatts of electricity, designed with 14 turbines or generators, each producing 55 MW. Designed to discharge the flow of 6,101 m3/s, the power plant is intended mainly for power generation for domestic supply.

The project’s total investment cost is estimated at USD2,134 million with the construction expected to start in 2022 and the commercial operation to begin when the construction finishes in 2029. Power China Resources Ltd is named as the developer, according to the official notification documents from Lao PDR.

On 13 June 2018, the Lao government, through its Lao National Mekong Committee, notified the Mekong River Commission Secretariat of its intention to undertake the formal process of Prior Consultation on the Pak Lay hydropower project. The notification includes the detailed description of the planned project for the MRC Secretariat to review and take further action to inform the other member countries about the project’s scope and other requirements under the prior consultation process.

The MRC’s Joint Committee Working Group (JCWG) on the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) convened its first meeting on 8 August 2018 to hear and discuss several key issues that require advanced proper attention and common understanding and agreement to ensure successful implementation of a six-month Prior Consultation process of the proposed project with an aim of increasing the joint benefits and cooperation among the member countries and MRC Secretariat.

The MRC has scheduled two regional stakeholder forums – one in September this year and another early next year – and a field visit to the project site to exchange and share information, investigate the site, and discuss and document legitimate concerns.

The Commission is now implementing the Prior Consultation process, officially starting on 8 August 2018. The consultation is conducted by the MRC Joint Committee (JC), a higher governance body comprising one senior government official at no less than head of department level from each member country, with technical and administrative support by the MRC Secretariat and the joint working group.

Prior Consultation Process

The Prior Consultation is part of the MRC’s procedural rules on cooperation on water use of the Mekong mainstream governed by the PNPCA. Under the Procedures, any infrastructural project using the 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 notified member countries will review technical aspects of the proposed project, assess any potential transboundary impacts on the environment and livelihoods along the riparian communities, and suggest measures to address those concerns. The member countries aim to come to an agreement on how the consulted case should proceed. It is not meant to approve or disapprove the proposed project.

This process normally lasts six months, but it could be extended further, if required, by the Joint Committee. The Prior Consultation is one of the three procedures required for the development of different types of water-use projects in the lower Mekong basin as specified in the PNPCA established under the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

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