SALWEEN WATCH HOTMAIL-OUT
The status of the dam planning is far more advanced than was previously thought. The dam developers have secretly and gradually proceeded with their planning up to the point where they are now reportedly about to start the "Definite Plan Study". Representatives of GMS Power Public Co. Ltd., the contract holder for the Tasang Hydropower Project, have told Shan resistance figures that the feasibility study for the dam is now finished and that they want the Shan's cooperation to carry out the definite plan. This is borne out by leaked government documents and seminar papers prepared by senior staff from Panya Consultants, a group involved in planning the water diversions.
The initiation of the definite plan study indicates that one or other or both the Thai and Burmese governments must have given some level of approval for the dam construction at that site. "Definite Plans" are usually done only after a definite decision has been taken to do the project. "Feasibility studies" are done with the aim of giving the decision makers the information they require to decide whether the development project is feasible or not. Definite plan studies are very expensive to prepare. To carry out the studies for and design of a large dam costs millions of dollars. Spending such large amounts of money indicates further strong high level determination to carry on with the dam project.
The Tasang Hydropower Project studies have been carried out by GMS Power Plc. Co. Ltd. and consultants working for it. GMS Power is a subsidiary of the MDX Group of Companies, an influential Thai group featuring former senior MP's and ex-directors of the government electricity generating authority called EGAT. MDX is also involved in dam projects in Laos, Cambodia and Yunnan.
According to leaked documents GMS signed a contract with the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) The Union of Myanmar in September 1997. It then subcontracted to Lahmeyer International, a German consulting engineering firm to assist with the pre-feasibility study. The GMS reps are quoted as saying the desk, reconnaissance and pre-feasibility studies were done at the same time, starting from November 1997. This study was completed and submitted in April 1998.
The Electric Power Development Corporation of Japan (EPDC) was contracted to carry out (or assist with) the feasibility study. According to the reported comments of the GMS representatives, the "second stage" or feasibility study was done between October 1998 and March 1999. This is borne out by local and NGO observers who reported that Thai, Japanese and other foreigners visited the Tasang site and carried out sampling activities during this time, although they did not stay long.
Other Shan sources have sent information about another small group comprising one German, one Englishman and one Burmese carrying out geographic survey activities in villages deep inside the Shan State. The foreigners identified themselves to a Shan cease-fire group that was ordered to accompany them as land surveyors working on the Tasang (Salween) Hydropower Project for a company named AAM (Thailand) Co. Ltd. They started in March 1999 and said they would complete their work by November 1999.
The GMS Power representatives in describing the roles of these groups said that "EPDC were only consultants, AAM were doing reconnaissance for GMS", and that another company called GMT were "doing drilling for GMS"
They said the third and final phase was for the definite plan, which with the cooperation of the Shans would take 7 months.
It is noteworthy that the Shan resistance groups are under heavy pressure from the Thais to refrain from obstructing the project. They are especially vulnerable to this pressure at the present time as the Shan organisations currently active against the Burmese military have been working hard to clear themselves of allegations of being involved in the drug trade. They have been doing this by making numerous attacks on drug trafficking organisations as well as the Burmese Army units. Compared with other groups that have not renounced the trade they are financially weak and occasionally in need of flexibility on the part of the Thais. Although the armed groups are increasingly aware of the potential negative impacts of the dam on their people and their movement, they are severely constrained in how they can deal with the issue. There is some evidence to support a view that those seen as being in a position to threaten the dam are being subjected to a strategy aimed at dividing, trapping and co-opting them.
The Tasang Dam site is in the southern part of the central Shan State, six kilometres north of the new Tasang Bridge and around 40 kilometres north of where the river takes a distinct turn to the west and flows towards Karenni (Kayah) State.
According to the pre-feasibility study the dam would produce 3,300 megawatts of power, although different documents variously state 3,500 or 3,600 megawatts. Annual production would be around 23,000 Gwh.
The plans call for a massive 188 metre (617') high concrete faced rockfill dam. The studies claim that the water level will rise from the existing river level at the site of 196 metres (645') to a stated "full supply level" of 350 metres (1149') above sea level. The "head" of the dam is put at 142 metres (466').
It is possible that the developers are not being fully truthful about the height of the floodwaters, as there is a marked disparity in the height of the top of the dam and the stated "full supply level". At 188 metres high the crest of the dam would be 384 metres (1,260') above sea level, which would leave a difference of fully 34 metres (111') between the full supply level and the crest of the dam. A more normal distance between the top of the dam and the waters in full flood is unlikely to be more than 4 metres. It is therefore possible that the flood waters could rise considerably higher than stated.
The GMS engineers claim the area to be flooded by the Tasang Dam would be 640 square kilometres, although they admit that the waters would reach back to Tayang Township. From analysis of 1 inch to 1 mile maps it is evident that the reservoir at the 350 metre elevation would stretch back over 230 linear kilometres (145 miles) from the dam wall, as well as flooding back to inundate the lower parts of 3 significant tributaries. If the actual flood level is up to 30 metres higher the surface area of the reservoir would be very significantly larger than claimed.
The pre-feasibility study cites the dam as provisionally having 6 turbines rated at 550 MW each. It would hold 36,100,000,000 cubic metres of water when full, approximately a third of the rivers annual flow of 119,037 million cubic metres per year.
The GMS representatives have denied that the Tasang Dam has anything to do with the diversion of water to Thailand. Despite the denials, there remains the possibility that some form of the old plans drawn up in 1981 by the Japanese consulting firm Nippon Koei Co. Ltd. may be revived at some point in the future. If built, the Tasang Dam would conveniently raise the water level to a point from where the water could be pumped up into a holding dam from where it could be sent down a tunnel that would deliver it into the Hkok River. Further downstream the Nam Hkok is itself the subject of advanced water diversion plans that would send a large measure of its waters into the Sirikit Dam on the Chaophraya River. That project is called the Kok-Ing-Nan Water Diversion Project.
The project would require high voltage power lines to be built that would connect with the Thai and Burmese national grids. Power to Thailand would be delivered through a 500 kVA transmission line to the substation at Chiang Mai in Thailand, 130 kilometers to the south. Power supply to Burma may be either through power lines running directly west into Burma or south into Thailand to connect to a regional power grid that would then join back into Burma.
Due to the high cost and great vulnerability of a high voltage transmission system connecting the dam to the Burmese grid it is possible that the lines bringing power into Thailand may be connected back to the Burmese national grid through a more secure route. The Burmese government faces serious cash and security problems as well as power supply shortages. Even if the dam is financed it will be hard for them to both raise the money for the additional high voltage power line and to secure the areas through which it passes. A 230 or 500kVA transmission cable to Taunggyi, or to the even more distant electricity substation at Pyinmana, would be expensive and very difficult to guard. It would pass through areas accessible to some of the most durable resistance groups in the world. One of these groups, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), has frequently demonstrated the vulnerability of power lines in Burma by cutting them many times, and have even launched rocket attacks that have damaged the heavily guarded Baluchaung Power station itself.
To get around the problem of securely delivering electric power from the dam the electricity may first be taken directly into Thailand before being sent into Burma by another more secure route. Such a development has already been discussed at high level, and is the subject of a plan drawn up by the Department of Electric Power of the Thai government to join Burma and Thailand with a 230kVA power line through Mae Sot – Myawaddy – Paan – Pegu.
Thailand currently faces a massive surplus of electric power, while Burma has long been faced with a deep energy crisis that features daily blackouts throughout the country. It is possible that the power transmission line may actually be built well before the completion of the Tasang Dam to bail out the SPDC with some of Thailand's surplus. Political agreement on this might take place within a "constructive engagement" context as part of the healing of current rocky relations between Thailand and Burma. Despite a presumable unwillingness of the Burmese military to become dependent on power from Thailand, the SPDC is may be receptive to this as it has reportedly taken the step of increasing the price of domestic power by a remarkable 1,000 percent. The SPDC appears to have serious intention to have the Salween dammed, so having such a power line in place may be seen as furthering the approval processes of the Thai government.
A pre-feasibility study for a smaller dam on the Salween River near the former Karen resistance headquarters of Manerplaw is the second most advanced study. The study is called the "Preliminary Feasibility Study of Hutgyi Hydropower Project in the Union of Myanmar". The Hutgyi Dam site is 33 kilometres downstream from the confluence of the Salween and Moei Rivers, and is upstream from the Karen State capital of Pa-an.
The study is the result of an agreement between the Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise (MEPE) and a group of developers including Marubeni Corporation of Japan and Italian Thai Development Plc. Co., Ltd..
The study was done with the involvement of NEWJEC Inc., a Japanese consultant group that is a subsidiary of the giant Kansai Electric Power Company. The completed study was handed over to the MEPE and SPDC in August 1998. It is not known if there has been any further action on this plan.
If built, the Hutgyi dam would be a concrete gravity dam 37 metres (121') high from base to top. The dam would be a so-called "run-of-river dam" that would not have a large reservoir and would be designed so as not to flood much Thai soil. According to a paper prepared by senior staff of Panya Consultants Co. Ltd., the "normal high water level" of the dam would be 48 metres (157'). The elevation of the river at the border of Thailand and Burma is 46 metres (149').
The dam would have an installed capacity of a mere 300 megawatts of electricity, and would supposedly produce 2,150 gigawatt hours of electricity per year. It would have 8 turbines producing 37.5 megawatts each.
A 230 kVA power transmission line would reportedly connect the dam to the Burmese power distribution point at Thaton (or Pa-an). Another 230kVA line would possibly be installed to connect it to a Thai electricity substation in Tak, although the cost of covering the 230 kilometer distance would be a strong disincentive, as would be the small amount of electricity available.
From newspaper articles it is understood that the Burmese military government is interested in this project but the Thai government is cool to it.
Although not evidently a part of the current pre-feasibility planning, it is possible that the 500kVA power cable supplying electricity to Burma from the Tasang Dam and the regional energy grid will be made to pass through this way instead of making a separate 230kVA power line. If the 500 kVA Interconnection Transmission line that is currently being discussed at the ministerial level is implemented and routed in this direction it would serve the Hutgyi hydropower project. If not already approved it may also increase the likelihood of the Hutgyi dam being built.
Routing of a transmission line through this area would also increase the likelihood of other hydropower and water diversion dams eventually being built on the Salween or its tributaries the Moei, Yuam or Mae Ngao rivers.
Two other sites for large dams on the Salween have also been identified which could be served by the transmission line if they are eventually built. These are the 792 megawatt Dagwin hydropower and water diversion dam and the 4540 megawatt Weigyi hydropower dam, respectively 30 km and 60 km north of the Salween - Moei confluence.
In February 1999 the Thai government approved 185 million baht in funding for studies into the feasibility of diverting water from the Salween River Basin into the Chaophraya River Basin. The Dagwin site is one of these. However most of the studies done focus on the Moei and its tributaries.
Possibly the most likely of these are the stepped pair comprising the Mae Lama Luang and Mae Ngao dams, close to the confluence of the Moei and Salween. They would be directly in the path of any power line going to the Hutgyi site. Mae Lama Luang is currently the location of a large refugee camp called Mae Ramu Klo which would be flooded out by dam construction at the site, further displacing the refugees and flooding rich teak forests.
The Burmese military government has given high priority to dam building activities, and has also concentrated efforts on gas fired projects. Most of the 100 dams the SPDC Generals claim to have developed since 1988 are however solely for irrigation purposes. Some of the dams though are multipurpose projects that will produce a small amount of hydropower, while one major project, the 280 MW Paunglaung Dam and a number of small projects that will produce less than 4 megawatts each are for hydro electric power production alone.