The Sanakham hydropower project is proposed on the Mekong mainstream between Xayaburi and Vientiane provinces of Lao PDR. It is the sixth proposed project and the fifth in the cascade of run-of-river projects on the mainstream from upstream to downstream of the Lower Mekong River. 

The project site lies about 25 km upstream from Sanakham district of Vientiane province, about 155 km from Vientiane capital at downstream, and about 84 km downstream of the Pak Lay project. The site is also about 2 km upstream of the Thai-Lao border of Loei Province and approximately 1,737 km from the sea. 

The run-of-river dam will operate continuously year-round and produce 684 megawatts of electricity. It is designed with 12 turbines or generators, each producing 57 MW. 

The project’s construction is expected to begin in 2020 and finish in 2028, during which time the commercial operations are also set to begin. The energy generated by the project will mainly be exported to Thailand. 

Datang (Lao) Sanakham Hydropower Co. Ltd is listed as the project developer. The total cost of the project is estimated at US$ 2,073 million. Of these, about US$ 27.7 million is allocated for environmental and social mitigation measures and monitoring programmes.    

The Lao Government, through its Lao National Mekong Committee, notified the Mekong River Commission Secretariat on 9 September 2019 of its intention to undertake the formal process of prior consultation on the Sanakham hydropower project. The notification came only shortly after its submission of the Luang Prabang project. To ensure a meaningful consultation process, the MRC’s governing body Joint Committee, which also includes Lao PDR, decided to hold the consultation for the Sanakham only after the Luang Prabang project. 

The prior consultation process for the Luang Prabang project began on 8 October 2019 and scheduled to end on 7 April 2020. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Joint Committee was unable to meet yet to agree on the Joint Statement and Joint Action Plan. The next scheduled meeting is 4 June 2020. 

In its notification of Sanakham submitted to the MRC Secretariat, the Lao Government provided a set of engineering documents and technical feasibility study, including the project’s social and environmental impact assessments and sediment and fisheries study. 

Based on MRC procedures, after the submission, the MRC Secretariat has to review and verify the completeness of the submitted documents. With the technical review for the Luang Prabang prior consultation completed, the Secretariat has now completed the initial document verification of the Sannakham project and forwarded all the submitted documents to the other three notified countries for their review. These documents are now available on this dedicated page. 

An advisory body to the MRC Joint Committee, the Joint Committee Working Group on the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA), is scheduled to meet on 16 June 2020 to discuss key issues around the prior consultation process of the project, including the starting date of the six-month process. 

The body is also expected to 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. 

Once the starting date is decided, the MRC will take immediate steps to implement the prior consultation process. In the process, the MRC has scheduled two regional stakeholder forums and a field visit to the project site to exchange and share information, investigate the site, and discuss and document legitimate concerns. 

The consultation is conducted by the MRC Joint Committee, a governing 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.

The 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. 

Introduction Video on the Sanakham Hydropower Project

Below is an introductory video on the Sanakham hydropower project to aid stakeholders’ understanding on the proposed project.

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Voice your thoughts or ask questions about the Sanakham PNPCA prior consultation process here.