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Norway behind Mekong power plan

by admin last modified 2005-05-23 08:18

Norway behind Mekong power plan


The Nordic nation known and loved for its busy efforts for the restoration of peace and democracy in Burma is also behind the master plan for power interconnections in the Mekong subregion bitterly opposed by activists both in Thailand and Burma, according to a recent report by a Bangkok-based environmental group. 

The Norwegian government, together with the Asian Development Bank, derisively known as Asian Dams and Bridges by its opponents, are teaming up to finance the $ 1.4 million Master Plan for Regional Power Interconnections and Power Trade in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), reported Grainne Ryder, Policy Director of the Toronto-based citizens group Probe International, which investigates the economic and environmental impacts of Canadian aid and companies abroad in the latest issue of Watershed, November 2003-March 2004, a publication by Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA). 

The Master Plan's "master minds" who prepared the blueprint for an electricity transmission grid connecting the countries of the region are Norwegian hydropower consultants, Norconsult. "Behind Norconsult is the Nordic (Scandinavia) dam building industry looking for new investment opportunities in the Mekong Region, and that includes the newly-formed SN Power Invest, a 50 percent Norwegian aid-financed power company. Teaming up to finance the US$ .4 million plan were the Norwegian government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), both longtime promoters and financiers of hydroelectric dam construction in the region", writes Ryder. 

Among Norconsult-recommended 4 grid projects are 2,500 kV lines from the yet-to-be-built Tasang Dam on the Salween to 500-kV system at Mae Moh lignite plant in northern Thailand's Lampang, 100 km south of Chiangmai, in 2012. 

It has also recommended a 10-month $ 400,000 feasibility study to assess viability of a 230-kilovolt connection from Tasang dam to Thailand's grid. Estimated cost: US$ 323 million. 

Courtesy: Watershed, Vol.9 No.2 November 2003- March 2004

It is not known whether Norway's foreign minister Jan Petersen, who visited Bangkok late last month, also discussed the Master Plan during his talks with Thai officials. Newspapers had reported only the meeting with his Thai counterpart, Surakiart Sathirathai, on 24 February, when he was said to have "pledged" to join Bangkok Process II to be held some time in mid-2004. Bangkok Process I, a three-hour session held in December, aimed at helping Burma bring about national reconciliation, was participated by Austria, Australia, Burma (represented by Foreign Minister Win Aung), France, Germany, Italy, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The meeting was hailed as a breakthrough by Surakiart. 

Norway, through its Norwegian Burma Committee, has been active in Burma-related affairs. The Oslo-based broadcasting program, Democratic Voice of Burma and S.H.A.N., among others, are supported by the NBC. "(What Norconsult does) is not affecting our work in one way or the other," replied one of its committee member to S.H.A.N. inquiry.