Letters from the Mekong: A Call for Strategic Basin-Wide Energy Planning in Laos

Watch the event video below or click here.

Preparatory work for the next big dam on the Mekong – Pak Beng – has begun. This news supports the widespread narrative that Laos’s plans to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia” by building more than 100 dams on its portions of the Mekong basin is moving full steam ahead. In actuality, the future of the Lower Mekong is still very much uncertain, and risks to hydropower development in Laos and the region continue to rise. The Lao government is faced with increasing challenges in managing its existing dams; economic slowdown in the region puts a damper on financing options for dam projects and has a downward effect on energy demand; and the devastating 2016 drought has renewed the call from downstream countries like Cambodia and Vietnam for a more coordinated approach to regional water management. Given these risks, the likelihood that Laos will complete its quest to dam the river is low. However, without a strategic, basin-wide plan for energy development in Laos that optimizes energy exports by including other energy options, it is very likely that Laos will not reach projected revenue targets from energy exports. At the same time, the uncoordinated approach will have cut off critical flows of fish and sediment to downstream states, severely impacting the livelihoods of millions.

This new publication, Letters from the Mekong: A Call for Strategic Basin-Wide Energy Planning in Laos, and the following discussion with the Stimson Southeast Asia team will explore how these challenges point to a much needed shift for strategic basin-wide planning. The team will also discuss how the external donor community can better guide Laos toward that shift by, among other approaches, supporting a modern national power grid that would more efficiently transfer power throughout the region and integrate renewables such as solar or wind as a replacement to building all of the proposed dams.
WHAT: A discussion on Stimson’s Southeast Asia program’s latest publication, Letters from the Mekong: A Call for Strategic Basin-Wide Energy Planning in Laos, and the emerging political and financial risks that challenge Laos’s current hydropower development trajectory and a presentation of an alternative, more sustainable option for energy development. 


Brian Eyler, Director of the Southeast Asia program, Stimson Center
Brian Eyler is the Director of Stimson’s Southeast Asia program. Before coming to the Stimson Center, he served as the Director of the IES Kunming Center at Yunnan University and as a consultant to the UNDP Lancang-Mekong Economic Cooperation program in Kunming, Yunnan province. Eyler is Co-founder of the influential website His first book, The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong will be published by Zed Books in 2017.

Ana Maria Quintero, Policy Associate, Nature Conservancy
Ana Maria Quintero is a Policy Associate for the Nature Conservancy as part of the Water Policy team. She has a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Franklin University Switzerland as well as an M.Sc. in Carbon Management from the University of Edinburgh and with her knowledge, she seeks to bring to light the linkages between climate change and water.

Courtney Weatherby, Research Associate, Stimson Center
Courtney Weatherby is a Research Associate with the Southeast Asia program at the Stimson Center. Her research focuses on infrastructure development, climate change, and energy issues in Southeast Asia, particularly the food-water-energy nexus in the Mekong River basin and China’s investment in regional energy infrastructure. Before joining Stimson, Weatherby interned with the Center for Strategic International Studies, the State Department, and Human Rights Watch.

Photo credit: Prince Roy via Flickr
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