The first hydropower dam on the lower Mekong River began commercial operations in Laos on Tuesday amid protests from villagers in Thailand who say the Xayaburi Dam and several others in the works will destroy their livelihoods.
The 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi Dam’s debut coincides with parts of the Mekong drying to a trickle even at the end of the rainy season, though its builders and operators say it is not responsible for the reduced river flow.
Xayaburi, which will sell 95% of its power to Thailand at an average rate of 2 baht ($0.066) per unit, is the first of at least nine more hydropower projects either under construction or planned on the lower Mekong in Laos.
The new spate of dam-building is poised to turbo-charge already-fraught water and food security disputes after years of worry about the 11 existing Beijing-built dams on the upper Mekong in China are choking the river on which millions depend for their livelihoods in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Xayaburi Dam has been nine years in the making and the 135 billion baht ($4.47 billion) project, built and financed by Thai companies and banks, has been controversial since inception.