Tropical storms in Vietnam increase water discharge at 1,920-MW Hoa Binh hydropower project

The latest of four meteorological events, Tropical Storm Sonca, have government officials in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam monitoring reservoirs and electricity production facilities, including water discharged from the 1,920-MW Hoa Binh hydropower plant, the largest hydropower project in the region.

Tropical Storm Sonca is the fourth major storm to hit Vietnam this year and earlier this month, Tropical Storm Talas killed 14 people in Vietnam, according to government information. The Thailand Meteorological Department warned that as Sonca continues to move west, it will bring heavy rain to most of Thailand from July 25 to 28. Sonca is expected to dissipate inland but will continue to bring heavy rainfall over Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.

Information from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, said Tropical Storm Sonca made landfall 87 nautical miles northwest of Da Nang early yesterday. The storm is tracking south and west through Laos and Cambodia into the southern-most regions of Thailand and Vietnam.

The Vietnam National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting today said the storm is expected to track south in Vietnam through Thursday from Ca Mau to Kien Giang Province at the Gulf of Thailand.

Since July 18, local officials say the Hoa Binh hydropower plant has opened two floodgates to reduce the reservoir’s water level and all of the facility’s units are running full-time at full-capacity, with a total capacity of 2,400 cubic meters per second.

Southeast Asia

The frequency of storms similar to Sonca, sea-level rise, climate change and many other factors affecting Southeast Asia threaten the region’s energy security, according to Asian Development Bank (ADB).

In the report released July 14 produced by ADB and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research titled, “A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific,” enumerates several factors that currently and will continue to impact hydropower generation in Southeast Asia.

The report says coastal populations — similar to those of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam — are at high risk from projected rises in sea level and the intensification of extreme weather events (i.e., heat waves, heavy precipitation or tropical cyclones).

According to the report, “Approximately 70% of the region’s electricity generation originates from [coal, oil and natural gas] fuel sources. Hydropower generation accounts for the bulk of the remaining sources of electricity.”

The report goes on to say, “Moreover, existing sources of electricity generation in the Asia and Pacific region (except for renewable sources) demand vast quantities of cold water which may not be met as a result of the impacts of climate change.”

Vietnam reservoirs

The ADB report and Tropical Storm Sonca come at a time when water levels at hydropower reservoirs in northern Vietnam, especially in Hoa Binh and Son La areas, are higher than in previous years.

According to Nguyen Sy Hung, deputy director of Vietnam’s Department of Agriculture, in the central provinces and Central Highlands, many of the water reservoirs are old and not safe. Hung said 30 out of 92 reservoirs the agency manages are in disrepair from lack of funding.

Vietnam’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nguyen Xuan Cuong, visited the Hoa Binh facility last week. According to the government of Vietnam, it had concerns that the amount of water being discharged from its reservoir would raise water levels in the southern portions of Vietnam, including Hanoi, that is currently being deluged by remnants of Tropical Storm Sonca.

State-owned Electricity of Vietnam owns and operates the Hoa Binh facility and is the largest power company in Vietnam. The company has an installed electricity generation capacity of 23,579 MW and of its generation, about 47% is produced from hydropower.

Commissioned in 1994, the Hoa Binh facility is the largest hydropower project in Southeast Asia. The project includes an embankment dam that impounds the Black River creating the Song Da Reservoir, and the facility’s powerhouse has eight 240 MW units.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for

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