The Son La Hydropower Plant, the largest project in Southeast Asia, is not only the pride of the country but it also marks an outstanding growth of the electric sector of Vietnam today.
The plant was officially put into operation on December 23, 2012, after seven years of construction, three years earlier than scheduled.

Epic of the Northwest

The Son La Hydropower Plant, dubbed a project of the century, is situated in It Ong Commune, Muong La District of the northern mountainous province of Son La where the Da River runs. Few people know that nearly 10 years ago, in the place where the plant is situated now there was Pa Vinh Hamlet with about 30 houses of the Thai ethnic people.

For those who have been a part of the “breath of the Da River” for almost 10 years, this is a moment of joy and happiness. Over 20,000 households of the ethnic groups in Dien Bien, Son La and Lai Chau provinces have voluntarily moved to other areas to live, leaving their land for the construction of the plant. Tens of thousands of workers and engineers have stuck to the construction site for seven years despite poor living conditions and the harsh weather. The proudest fact is that all items of the project have been designed and built by Vietnamese engineers and workers who have devoted all their mind and heart for the project.

With a total investment of 60 trillion VND (approximately 2.85 billion USD), the Son La Hydropower Plant with a designed capacity of 2,400 MW and six generators has been completed much earlier than scheduled, bringing huge economic benefits. Every year it will create a turnover of 500 million USD and save over five million tonnes of coal which will be needed to produce an equivalent amount of electricity. Moreover, the plant will supply on average 10.2 billion kWh/year to the national grid.

At the time the Son La Hydropower Plant was inaugurated, its workers were preparing to go to Lai Chau province for a new hydroelectric project. Before leaving, they paid tribute to their colleagues who had laid down their lives here for the electricity of the country. Hundreds of workers sat along the plant’s dam to pray for their souls and inform them about the early completion of the plant after more than 2,000 hard working days.

Talking about the workers who had been part of this special project, Bui Phuong Nam, Head of the Technical Department of the Son La Plant Management Board said: “To have this project of the century, we have suffered sacrifices and losses. The requiem ceremony today is aimed to commemorate those who have devoted all of their efforts, minds, blood and flesh to the Son La Hydropower Plant, contributing to creating an epic of the Da River.”

In his speech delivered to thousands of workers, engineers and local people at the inauguration ceremony, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung warmly praised the people in Son La, Dien Bien and Lai Chau provinces for yielding their land for the construction of the plant. He also praised the cadres and workers of the construction company who had made great efforts to constructing the work.

The Son La Hydropower Plant coming into operation not only contributes to solving the energy problem of the country in the period of industrialisation and modernisation, but also has a great economic, political and social significance. The project has provided opportunities for the northwestern area to upgrade and rebuild its infrastructure, improve the eco-environment, control floods, supply water for irrigation in the low land, ensure security and defence in the northwest, arrange and stabilise the life of thousands of ethnic people in the mountainous areas, helping them develop their economy and improve their life.

Miracle of Vietnamese workers

Nghiem Cong Tan, Deputy Head of the Management Board’s Technical Department said proudly that perhaps, in the history of the electricity sector of Vietnam there has never been a hydroelectric project with so many “strange” factors as the Son La Hydropower Plant. To prepare for the ceremony of breaking the ground and blocking the river on December 2, 2005 as planned by the Party Central Committee, the entire contingent of engineers and workers had to race against time as well as the weather and the floods to complete a 500m-long bridge together with 125km of roads, a system of nearly 200 km of 110-220KV electric lines, nearly 60,000sq.m of houses for thousands of workers and many other facilities, such as the flow-conducting systems and upstream and downstream dykes. Such amount of initial work is worthily a miracle!

According to Tan, over 16.6 million cubic metres of rocks and earth were excavated; over 20 million cubic metres of rocks and earth were transported; millions of metres of earth for the foundation were rammed; nearly 6 million cubic metres of concrete were built; and 115,000 tonnes of equipment were installed during the construction process.

If the Son La hydroelectric project is like a blooming flower in the upstream area of the northwest, the hydroelectric dam is like the ‘soul’ of the plant.

To build this dam, the engineers proposed to apply a construction method using the roller compacted concrete (RCC), an advanced technology of the world that Vietnam had never used to build a hydroelectric plant before. At first, many people were worried and said the technology should not be used for an important project of the country like the Son La Hydropower Plant. Finally, after many debates, the use of the roller compacted concrete technology was adopted. The Vietnamese specialists went to many countries to learn about this technology, and at the same time invited the world’s leading experts to come to Vietnam . Then, the production lines of the modern roller compacted concretes were imported from Germany and Japan . After 32 months, the major dam of the project was complete with 2.7 million cubic metres of concrete and has become the largest dam in Southeast Asia . It is 961.6m long and 228.1m high and has a reserve capacity of over 9.26 billion cubic metres of water.

With all their hearts and minds as well determination, bravery and solidarity, the management, engineers and workers have joined their efforts and complied with the regulations to put the six turbines into operation ahead of schedule and ensure the required quality. The successful construction of the Son La Hydroelectric Plant showed the strong growth of the hydroelectric sector in Vietnam in general and the mechanical engineering sector in particular.-VNA