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NEWS UPDATES 21 June 2010

Vietnam's power shorted by drought

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Recent thunderstorms brought slight relief to parts of northern Vietnam recently but not to the Hoa Binh hydropower plant, where electricity output is severely restricted.

In fast-growing Vietnam, where energy demand outstrips supply, that means more blackouts in a country that draws more than one-third of its power from hydroelectricity.

The Hoa Binh hydropower plant is Vietnam's largest power facility. It is fed by the Da River flowing from China, where drought has brought falling water levels just as it has throughout Southeast Asia.

Vietnam is confronted with its worst water shortage in decades, Bui Duc Long, of the national weather centre, told AFP.

Vietnamese media reports have said the dry spell -- which has pushed temperatures in Hanoi to near 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) -- could be the worst in a century.

"This year the drought is worse than usual because we haven't seen the rise in levels that originate upstream in China", said Hoa Binh Hydro Power Company's deputy director Nguyen Khac Thuc.

Foreign businesspeople have expressed regular concern about a lack of energy and other infrastructure in Vietnam.

"Consumption of electricity keeps on growing by 15 percent annually, thereby substantially surpassing the economic growth rates," the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam wrote last month.

It cited estimates that the country needs around 70-80 billion dollars of infrastructure investment over the next five to 10 years.

At Hoa Binh, electricity production has already been limited for several months, initially to maintain the reservoir at its normal level of 117 metres (384 feet), said Thuc, whose plant is under the state Electricity of Vietnam company.

After a subsequent release of water to irrigate farm fields, the level dropped in late May to 83 metres, and then to just above 81 -- one metre higher than the "dead point", he said.

Below the dead point, production must be limited to a "strict minimum", lest the water fall to 75 metres which requires a halt in electricity output, Thuc explained.

The imposing Hoa Binh facility includes a towering statue of Vietnam's independence hero Ho Chi Minh. The plant was built over 15 years with help from the former Soviet Union and has a capacity of 1,920 megawatts.

Inaugurated in 1994, it now serves more than 40 percent of electricity consumption in north Vietnam and 15 percent nationwide, the company says.

But it is not enough.

For the first five months of the year Vietnam had a shortage of two billion kilowatt-hours, said Quan Duc Hai, of EVN's National Load Dispatch Centre.

Vietnam's economic growth has exceeded 5 percent annually for the past decade. Electricity demand comes not only from industry but from increasingly well-off householders buying appliances.


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