Vietnam?s Mekong Delta Will Soon have its First Wind Farm

GE announced plans for the ten-turbine wind farm in July, and GE spokeswoman Adeline Teo said last Friday (Nov. 18) that construction is underway. Teo told Earth Island Journal that she didn’t have details immediately available on when the farm will be operational.

The American company has said the wind farm will produce 16 megawatts of electricity on a site located about 125 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon). It says the project’s local developer is also planning to build more turbines that would add up to 120 additional megawatts of wind capacity.

Vietnam’s total electricity capacity is about 13,500 megawatts, with roughly a third of the power coming from hydropower and another third from natural gas. GE says the new wind farm will help the country to “resolve” its notorious power shortages.

The farm would also help Vietnam move toward its stated goal of increasing its wind-energy capacity to 1,000 megawatts by 2020 and 6,200 megawatts by 2030. (The current U.S. wind energy capacity, by contrast, is more than 42,000 megawatts.) So far the only wind project in Vietnam’s national grid is a 20-turbine farm that generates about 30 megawatts of electricity.

Ron Steenbergen, an Australia-based renewable energy developer who works in several Asia-Pacific countries, says that although Vietnam’s wind-power plans sound nice, the Communist leadership “won’t follow through on the details.” The bureaucracy is neither “transparent” nor “consistent,” he adds, and the price of domestic renewable power does not yet make building things like wind turbines or biogas generators all that practical from a business standpoint.

Steenbergen says Vietnam should follow the policy example set by the Philippines, a country he says has passed “landmark” legislation designed to create market incentives for renewable energy. Although the Philippines is struggling to implement related laws, he says, it is at least working to reform its energy grid.

Energy reform may take a while in Vietnam. Although the state-controlled media celebrates the Communist Party’s renewable-energy talking points, Party honchos are dead-set on fossil fuel extraction. From 1990 to 2007, Vietnam’s domestic coal industry went from producing less than five metric tons to nearly 40 metric tons of coal per year despite international research that says the industry causes environmental degradation. And Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is now pushing a plan to build eight nuclear power plants by 2031 despite warnings from Vietnamese scientists that the first plant would sit near the coast and less than 60 miles from a faultline, possibly exposing it to tsunamis.

Dung is apparently unfazed by the specter of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster: In late October, Vietnam and Japan said in a joint statement that they plan to work together on developing nuclear power here. Japan has pledged to provide its energy-starved Southeast Asian neighbor with “technologies that represent the world’s highest level of nuclear safety.”