The 5th ordinary session of the Lao National Assembly which adjourned last weekend had given the green light to the Hongsa lignite development project after a lengthy debate that followed a presentation by Deputy Minister of Energy and Mining Somboun Latsasombath.
NA members expressed concerns about the social and environmental impacts of the project which will be developed in Hongsa District, Sayabouly province, by the government in a joint venture with a group of Thai and Chinese businessmen, at a projected cost of 3,915 million US dollars.
The investors expect to cover 75% of the total cost with foreign loans while sharing the rest. For its part, the Lao government is expected to chip in no less than 196 million dollars through a $100 million-loan from China's Import-Export Bank and a $96 million-loan from the Chinese Development Bank.
The Hongsa lignite-power plant, when it is up and running in 2013, will be capable of generating 1,800 megawatts of electricity by using an average of 13 million tons of lignite coal a year to generate the heat to produce the electricity. During its 25-year concession, the plant is expected to consume more than 320 million tons of lignite coal, and that has NA deputies worry about the pollution it will release to the atmosphere, in addition to the soil and forest destruction resulting from the lignite coal mining and the evacuation of local people. Some 15 villages surrounding the 12 square-kilometer mining area will be affected.
Deputy Minister of Energy and Mining Somboun Latsasombath assured the deputies that the social and environmental impact studies have been performed according to international standards, and that developers have taken all the necessary steps to prevent those impacts.
The Hongsa lignite plant is one of the many energy projects that Laos plans to develop to produce enough electricity to meet its targeted goal of selling no less than 7,000 megawatts to Thailand's Energy Generating Authority of EGAT by the year 2020.
For more details in Lao, listen to Songrit Pongern's report.