March 18, 2020 / 9:29 AM / 3 months ago

Cambodia halts mainstream Mekong River dam plans for 10 years, official says

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Electricity-starved Cambodia will not develop new hydropower dams on the Mekong River for the next 10 years, a senior energy official said on Wednesday, as it reviews its policy to seek energy from coal, natural gas and solar.

The decision means that neighboring Laos, which has opened two new dams on the mainstream Mekong in the past six months, is the only country in the Lower Mekong Basin planning hydropower on the river that sustains some 60 million people.

Victor Jona, director general of energy at Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, told Reuters the government was following a study done by a Japanese consultant that recommended Cambodia seeks energy elsewhere.

“According to the study, we need to develop coal, LNG, imports from neighboring countries and solar energy,” he said, adding that he could not give details contained in a government master plan.

“In this 10-year plan, from 2020 to 2030, we have no plans to develop a mainstream dam,” he said.

Environmentalists have warned that dams will harm fisheries and farming along the 2,390-km Lower Mekong.

The river nourishes fishing grounds and farmlands as it flows in from China then winds past or through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Some other officials, however, have said a record drought and low fish catches over the past year were due to climate change and over fishing.

Cambodia had previously announced plans for two dams at Sambor and Stung Treng, but both projects are on hold.

Across the border in Laos, power from the new Don Sahong hydropower facility began flowing into Cambodia’s grid in January under a 30-year old deal.

Cambodia last year had the worst power outages in years as a surge in demand was fueled by a construction boom accompanying Chinese investment.

Officials have said the electricity shortage was also due to low levels water at hydropower dams on other rivers and tributaries of the Mekong across the country.

Cambodia uses hydropower for about 48% of its domestic electricity production, according to the state utility Electricite du Cambodge.

With demand growing fast, Cambodia imported about 25% of its electricity last year, with the bulk of it transmitted from Vietnam and Thailand, according to the utility’s statistics.

Editing by Kay Johnson

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