The Theun-Hinboun hydropower project in Laos is due to begin commercial operation very soon, below budget and slightly ahead of schedule. The $260 million, 210 MW scheme is being funded by commercial banks as well as the Laotian government and the Asian Development Bank.

The hydropower scheme is expected to yield a five-year payback for investors who are supporting the build-own-operate-transfer scheme. Theun-Hinboun Power Co., the company which owns the plant, has signed a 25 year power purchase agreement with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

A transmission line involving 209 transmission towers will carry power 85 km to Thakhet and across the Mekong river where it will link into the Thai national grid. Although 95 per cent of the power will be exported to Thailand, 4 MW will be diverted to supply the villages local to the project.

Theun Hinboun takes water from the river Theun and diverts it through a 5.2 km tunnel to a powerhouse. After exiting the turbines, the water is directed into the river Hai.

Theun-Hinboun Power is a joint venture. The Laos government owns 60 per cent of the shares, MDX Lao, a subsidiary of Thai company GMS Power owns 20 per cent, and Nordic Hydropower owns the remaining 20 per cent.

Laos is hoping to export some 5000 MW of power to Thailand and Vietnam by 2010, but to do so it requires massive external investment.

However, the government expects to earn up to $1 billion from Theun-Hinboun exports over the next 25 years.