The Vietnamese government has chosen a Moscow-based company to carry out a feasibility study for the 3,600 MW Son La dam.
By Chris Lang. Published in Watershed, Vol. 3, No. 2, November 1997 – February 1998.
The Vietnamese government has chosen a Moscow-based company to carry out a feasibility study for the 3,600 MW Son La dam. The company, Designing Survey Research and Production Shareholding Company, previously worked on the Hoa Binh dam.
The contract is valued at US$775,000. The study will be finished by the end of 1998 with construction planned to start in late 1999 and electricity generation to begin by 2010.
The Russian Government has shown an interest in the US$3-4 billion project for several years. In September 1995, the Russian Energy Minister paid a working visit to Vietnam, and two months later, the Russian Ambassador to Vietnam said that Russia is ready to help with construction of the dam, and would offer “the lowest possible construction costs”.
Vietnamese and international consultants have produced a series of studies since 1965, when the Vietnamese government first began to study the Son La project. In 1994, the Japanese consultants Electricity and Power Distribution Company reviewed the Vietnamese Power Investigation and Design Company No. 1’s feasibility study.
Subsequently the Swedish consultant firm SWECO produced an inception study, which according to the terms of reference was to be the first stage of an effort to seek funding from international financing agencies. The state agency Electricity of Vietnam completed a pre-feasibility study of the project in September 1996.
In 1996, in response to a request from the Australian NGO Aid/Watch for information about the Bank’s involvement in the project, Donna Haldane, Senior Country Officer for Vietnam stated, “The World Bank has no present plans to finance either the feasibility studies for Son La nor the dam itself. We are not aware of other international agencies that might be involved in this project.”
Although Bank staff deny it, the World Bank has been involved with studies for the dam. According to a World Bank Staff Appraisal Report dated April 1995, the Bank funded “engineering studies for the Son La hydropower project for the Ministry of Energy”.
In January 1997, the World Bank conditionally agreed to fund a feasibility study, at a cost of US$13.5 million (17 times more expensive than the costs of the Designing Survey Research and Production Shareholding Company’s current study).
The Bank’s then-Resident Representative in Hanoi, Bradley Babson said, “We are not financing the dam, but we may provide funds to make sure that they do the studies for the dam in a way that will fit international standards.” However, in February 1997, Van Tien Hung, Operations Officer at the Bank’s office in Hanoi, told Aid/Watch that the Bank had refused to consider any funding for Son La until a National Hydropower Plan was drawn up for Vietnam.