Thailand has agreed to buy 5,000 megawatts of hydro-electricity from land-locked Laos by the year 2015, and is discussing imports of another 2,000mw thereafter, energy officials revealed on Friday.
"In addition to the implementation of the 5,000 megawatts as agreed in the 2006 memorandum of understanding, we are now discussing an additional 2,000 megawatts, or higher, to be supplied to Thailand after 2015," Lao Energy Minister Bosaykham Vongdara told a seminar in Bangkok on "sustainable hydropower development" hosted by the World Bank.
Laos, Thailand's neighbour to the north across the Mekong River, ranks among the world's poorest nations. But the mountainous country, half the size of France, is rich in rivers capable of generating an estimated 20,000mw of electricity.
The country's current hydro-electricity capacity is less than 700mw, much of which is already exported to Thailand. By the year 2010, with the completion of the Nam Theun II dam, the national capacity should be boosted to 1,800mw.
Thailand's Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) will be the main buyer of the Nam Theun II hydro-electricity.
The $1.1 billion Nam Theun II project has been built by a consortium including the Lao government, France's EDF and two Thai companies. The massive project received a guarantee from the World Bank, which has insisted the dam fulfilled stringent environmental and social impact standards.
Nam Theun II has thus far won favourable critiques from visitors.
"Hydro-projects in Laos have shown the world that hydro-projects can be environmentally friendly," said Thai Minister of Energy Piyasvasti Amranand.
Thailand is also considering importing hydro-eelcturiy from neighbouring Myanmar, which has massive plans to dam up the Salween River, flooding territory currently under the control of the Karen minority group that has been waging a guerrilla war against the Myanmar military for six decades.
Environmentalist and human rights groups have condemned the project and criticized Thailand for offering itself as a market for the proposed Salween hydro-electricity.
"There is a feasibility study going on," said Piyasvasti of the Salween dam. "This is not at the investment stage yet."
Piyasvasti said Thailand's current priority was to buy hydro-electircity from Laos.
"We are brothers. We speak the same language and it's a lot easier to work with Laos. Myanmar will be further beyond on the time horizon."
Thailand and Laos share similar languages and cultures, but different political systems. Laos is one of the world's last communist regimes. Thailand has been experimenting with democracy for the past 75 years.
Piyasvasti has been a controversial energy minister in Thailand because he has pushed the government to put nuclear energy on its development plans.
"In the long run, we need to look at something which is sustainable, something which is cost effective, and something which doesn't worsen global warming," Piyasvasti told the World Bank seminar. "I think the only answer is nuclear."
Thailand's timeframe is to spend the next seven years preparing for nuclear energy use, then six years for construction before commissioning three to four plants by the year 2020.