Vietnam power plant developer says protected forest should appreciate tax

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Work under way on a 0.2-MW hydropower plant in the Chu Yang Sin National Park in Dak Lak Province in the Central Highlands. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Land has been given in a vital area in a Central Highlands national park for building a hydropower plant, with the investor blithely claiming the taxes it will pay far outweigh any environmental concern.

Hoang Nguyen Company is all set to begin construction of a 5-MW plant at Chu Yang Sin National Park despite a recommendation last month by the Central Highlands Steering Committee, a government advisory agency, that hydropower plants should not be built in the region for at least two years to save it from further damage.

Dak Lak Province in 2005 allowed the company to work on the plan for the Ea K'tour plant, named after a stream it would take over, on six hectares of park land. It then delayed a final decision until late last year when it gave approval.

Hoang Dinh Tuan, director of the province-based company, justified the investment, saying any impact the plant could have would be minor.

"Chu Yang Sin has hundreds of thousands of hectares and the project only uses six, and the construction period of around one year will not affect the park's flora and fauna at all.

"Also, if birds and animals don't have a place in the park, they can live elsewhere; there's nothing to worry about that."

He said his company did not come up with the project, but was asked by the province to develop the area by paying taxes and environment protection fees.

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Tong Ngoc Chung, director of the park, said the original plan was for a 7.5 MW park on 70 ha, and that was only abandoned after park officials objected strongly.

But even with six hectares, the plant would take away a "strictly protected" area, he warned.

"It will change the habitat of precious endemic species listed in Vietnam and world Red Books."

The Ea K'tour stream area has great biodiversity value and is home to several kinds of forests, not to mention its picturesque sceneries and that it provides water as well as fish for local people, he said.

The plant would dry up three kilometers of the stream, causing plants to die, and reptiles, amphibians, and other species that only live in cold water to disappear, he said.

He said the damage would not be limited to six hectares since the sound of machines would chase away animals, and the work would let in poachers and loggers and also local residents seeking to farm.

Huynh Bai, chairman of Krong Bong District, which would get nearly VND2 billion (US$95,000) a year in taxes from another hydropower plant built by the company, told Tuoi Tre newspaper the money would not be worth the environmental damage.

"The money is a big income for a district, but if ecological losses and people's troubles are counted, it is too small."

He said the district has several times protested against the new plant, which is likely to bring the same amount of money, but to no avail.

"Our point is that a power plant with a small contribution to the budget and the national power grid but significant impacts [on the environment] like Ea K'tour should not be built."

Hydropower plants with a capacity of less than 30 MW are defined as small in Vietnam, which relies on hydropower for about 40 percent of its electricity needs.

Provinces in the central region have since last year canceled half of around 40 small dams approved in their area since they do not offer much benefit but cause as much damage as large ones.

If built, the new plant will be the fourth small one in the Dak Lak park, including one of 11 MW already operating and one under construction.

Official agencies admitted at several province-level that plant would have adverse effects but still ended up approving it.

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