Abundant Hydro-Electric Potential Lures Corporations to the Mekong River


Photo of the Mekong River in Laos by E. Zarwan.

Using rivers to do work is one of the oldest forms of power—whether directly powering grain mills or in creating electricity on either a small or gigantic scale—so I suppose it doesn't really qualify as alternative energy. But, as fossil fuel prices increase, more companies are taking a page out of the history book, paying attention to where rivers run, and siting their manufacturing facilities accordingly. A recent piece in Forbes highlights some of these developments.

Southeast Asia Taps Hydropower
In Vietnam, the article points out, Intel has built a $1 billion semiconductor plant on the Mekong, and General Electric has built a wind turbine manufacturing facility. Yamaha Motor and Mabuchi Motors may also build plants in the delta, to take advantage of the water supply.

In Cambodia, 5,000 MW of hydroelectric power is planned for the Mekong. Additionally, two relatively small hydro-electric dams were recently approved by the Cambodian Cabinet, both in southwest Cambodia—one 246 MW in size, the other 338 MW—and both to be built by Chinese firms.

In Laos a $1.2 billion hydro project known as Nam Theun 2 is nearly completed and four more dams are in the works for the Mekong and more than a dozen along the river's tributaries.

Expanding Electrification the Goal, But at What Environmental Cost?
I had two questions when I read about these developments: 1) What will happen to these projects when global warming changes the rainfall/glacial melt patterns at the headwaters of the Mekong, in far eastern Tibet; and 2) What will happen if Chinese hydroelectric projects on the upper Mekong, in Yunnan Province, divert too much water from reaching the low areas of the river?

And what environmental changes will this bring to a region inhabited by so many people dependent on the Mekong in one way or another? The group International Rivers says that these plans could, "mean death by a thousand cuts to the river's fisheries and the people who depend upon them," adding that "the Mekong supplies people [in the region] with about 80% of their protein needs."

Perhaps Forbes doesn't believe that mentioning environmental concerns is appropriate in an article about corporations using one of the world's greatest rivers, but it seems a bit of an omission when the potential consequences are so great.

via Forbes and :: International Herald Tribune
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Tags: Electricity | Thailand | Vietnam

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