Lao villagers welcome minimal impact of solar project
Supporters say the environmental, social and economic costs are preferable to hydropower.
A plan to bring solar power to Laos’ southern Attapeu province appears to be the rare energy project in the country that is garnering support among local residents, who say its Singaporean developer has offered them acceptable compensation while minimizing the impact on their community.
“This project developed by a Singaporean investor is good. It won’t displace any villagers because it’s a solar system and because it’s quite far away from our community,” a resident of Xaysettha district’s Hatxan village, who like all other unnamed sources in this report requested anonymity for safety reasons, told RFA’s Lao Service.
The Lao government sees power generation as a way to boost the landlocked country’s economy. But the dam projects along the Mekong River that form the backbone of its plan to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia” typically engender controversy because of their environmental impacts, effect on villagers – many of whom are forced to move – and questionable financial and power demand arrangements.
But most residents of Hatxan told RFA that Singapore-based developer Solar Attapeu Power Sole Company, Ltd had offered them fair compensation to offset the impact of its solar project, unlike many communities affected by the various hydropower projects throughout the country.
“It’ll affect only about 20 families and small parts of farmland for which they don’t have a land title. It’s state land and they have only the right to use the land and pay taxes on it every year. So, the authorities and the company will just compensate for villagers’ labor, fruit trees and huts,” the Hatxan villager said.
“The compensation won’t be much. It’ll be about eight million kip (U.S. $523) per hectare (2.5 acres). We’re happy with the compensation. This project won’t impact the environment or our community. On the contrary, it may help develop our local economy,” said the source.
The Lao government and Solar Attapeu held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Solar Attapeu Power Project (SAPP) at Hatxan village on Aug. 12, according to a report by the state-run Vientiane Times.
The project is capable of producing 64 megawatts, and is expected to be complete by the end of 2023 at a cost of U.S. $69.2 million. The power will be sold to the Lao power state enterprise, Electricite du Laos.
While solar projects typically produce far less power than hydroelectric dams and are limited by weather conditions, they have a far smaller environmental footprint and require significantly less upfront costs to build.
Another villager indicated the compensation was fair but said that development projects should benefit local communities instead of simply being designed to limit their impact.
“My question is, how can our community benefit from the project? Is it going to generate some kind of income for us, or is it going to create some kind of jobs for us? Is it going to help develop our community or improve our living conditions?” the second villager said.
“If we get nothing from the project, then it is unreasonable. All three parties – namely the company, government and the community – should share the benefits and the development should be sustainable.”
An official with the Attapeu Province Natural Resources and Environment Department told RFA that while the project is being developed on farmland and forest areas, it won’t lead to any displacement of local residents.
“Unlike dams, the solar power project is a good development project — sustainable, not harmful to the environment and community … The company has since 2014 been conducting surveys and feasibility studies on about 100 hectares of land around Hatxan village for the project. All of it is state land,” the official said.
The farmers aren’t being compensated for the land lost to the project because it is state land, he said.
“The project owner will pay compensation for their produce, labor and huts. The compensation will be paid over the next three years,” the official said.
The solar project will also be much cheaper than dams because it will not require paying to relocate villagers, an official with the Attapeu Province Energy and Mines Department told RFA.
“The investment cost is low. Solar and wind power projects are gaining popularity worldwide right now. They’re good, sustainable and less costly. They help develop the economy of the country and the local community too.”
Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.