Vietnam province says yes to new hydropower plants in rumbling earthquake zone

By Dac Thanh, Vi Vu   July 19, 2017 | 04:40 pm GMT+7
Vietnam province says yes to new hydropower plants in rumbling earthquake zone
Water release from a hydropower plant in Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Trung Hau

Dismissing safety and environmental fears, Quang Nam's chairman says a stable power supply is vital.

The local legislature in the central province of Quang Nam on Wednesday approved a plan to build four new hydropower plants in a district that has been constantly hit by earthquakes.

The four dams, with a combined capacity of 79 megawatts, are set to take up over 144 hectares (356 acres) in the mountainous district of Nam Tra My, adding to the province's existing 42.

The proposal was approved despite ongoing environmental concerns.

Le Thi Thuy, a local legislator, said the province, which has the most hydropower plants in Vietnam, does not need any more.

She said the plants would have a negative effect on the environment and people's lives.

“Destroying forests for the dams is just like peeling skin off your body, and the next generations will blame us,” she said.

Officials also pointed out that the district lies along an earthquake zone, aggravating concerns that further major construction could be dangerous, Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper reported.

Three quakes with a magnitude reaching 3.9 on the Richter Scale were recorded in the district over just five days in February, and another 2.7 magnitude tremor shook the area in May.

Around 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the north, multiple earthquakes have been recorded around a major dam since 2011, and some experts say this is due to increased pressure on fault lines.

However, these concerns were overruled by the district's chairman, Ho Quang Buu, who said the area needs a stable power supply.

Buu said the community often suffers from blackouts in the evening and when it rains.

The new plants would cost much less than a connection to the national grid around 63 kilometers away, which would cost more than VND400 billion ($15.6 million).

He also said the projects would not affect agricultural land in the area.

Vietnam is mostly reliant on coal-fired and hydropower plants to meet its annual electricity growth demand of around 11 percent.

Quang Nam alone has 42 hydropower projects either in operation or about to start up. In 2009, the province received heavy criticism when a major dam released 150 million cubic meters of water during Typhoon Ketsana, adding to the floods that killed at least 163 people and caused over $786 million worth of damage.

Despite this, new power plants are still being planned across the country, causing major concerns among local communities and environmental activists.