VIETNAM – Power Development Planning VIII (“PDP8”) – Vietnam Government’s plan to De-carbonize the Country – what you must know:

Question#1. What impact is PDP8 likely to have on the country’s efforts to decarbonize the economy?

Answer#1:
The draft Power Development Planning VIII (“PDP8”) reinforces the Vietnam Government’s current view on prioritizing renewable energy sources to minimize negative impacts caused by electricity production on the environment. Importation of fuels (coal, LNG) are encouraged as a way to diversify the country’s primary energy sources, and the same goes for the establishment of transmission and distribution grid links with China, Laos and Cambodia in order to maximize each country’s energy potential. Imported electricity sources from neighboring countries are to be considered as prioritized projects because imported electricity will reduce environmental impact compared to domestic production.

As of 2020, the country’s total generation capacity is about 69.3 gigawatt (GW), including 16.5 GW of solar power (approx. 24% of the total capacity) and 0.6 GW of wind power. More than 50% Vietnam’s electricity generation came from coal in 2020. Vietnam’s reliance on coal-fired power remains heavily to meet rapidly increasing electricity demand. Hydroelectric generation is also significant as the country is home to a number of large rivers. Non-hydro renewable sources such as wind and solar made up 5% of Vietnam’s electricity generation in 2020. Under the draft PDP 8, Vietnam plans to increase solar capacity to 18.6 GW and wind capacity to 18 GW by 2030.

Question#2. Does PDP8 target specific regions of the country? Are these regions that are more likely to be impacted by the transition to a low carbon economy?

Answer#2:
Yes, one of the most notable differences between the Draft PDP 8 and Revised PDP 7 (the latest official national power development planning) is the level of power demand between the North and the South. According to PDP8, the proportion of commercial electricity in the North will gradually increase from 42.4% in 2020 to 45.8% in 2045, while the South will decrease its proportion from 47.4% in 2020 to 43.6% by 2045. By 2040, the North’s commercial electricity demand will start to exceed that of the South. As a result, this will significantly affect the strategy in PDP8 to develop the transmission grid and generation sources (including RE sources) to meet the demand.

The draft PDP 8 is oriented to focus on the development of transmission grid of at least 220KV to solve overcapacity issues that has been occurring in recent years. As to grid development, in the period of 2021-2030, MOIT sees the need to build 86 GVA with a capacity of 500kV per station and nearly 13,000 km of DLZ. From 2031-2045, an additional construction of 103 GVA with capacity of 500kV and nearly 6000 stations is required. The 220kV power grid needs construction of 95 GVA, nearly 21,000 km DMZ and 108 GVA, more than 4000 km NE. Total investment capital for electricity development in the period 2021-2030 is roughly USD 128.3 billion USD, of which: USD 95.4 billion for the power sources, USD 32.9 billion for the grids. The average structure of capital investment shall be 74% / 26%.

The draft PDP8 appears to concern a surging oversupply of solar power in 2030 in many regions, such as the Central Highlands (estimated 1,500 MW but registered 5,500 MW), the South Central (estimated 5,200 MW but registered 11,600 MW), or the Southern (estimated 9,200 MW but registered 14,800 MW). The wind power shares the same situation as the registered capacity exceeds normal estimated capacity in Central Highlands (estimated 4,000 MW but registered 10,000 MW) and Southern (estimated 6800 MW but registered 17,000 MW). Accordingly, the draft PDP8 must solve this unbalance to ensure the sustainable development of the renewable energy sources in Vietnam. It is expected that future policy on renewable energy will base on auction rather than FIT.

For example, below is the draft policy for solar power projects. In late January 2021, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (“MOIT”) issued the draft Decision of the Prime Minister guiding the selection of investors implementing solar power projects under the bidding mechanism (“the Draft”). According to the Draft, the Decision would be applicable to projects with grids connected directly to the national power network. The Ministry of Industry and Trade shall coordinate with the Electricity of Vietnam and the People’s Committees of localities to organize the formulation and approval of the renewable energy power source development plan for a period of 5 years and every 2 years to serve as a basis for the bidding system. In addition, every 02 years, the Ministry of Industry and Trade shall issue a Price Framework for electricity generation in order to determine the ceiling price for bidding to select investors of solar power projects with COD in the next 02 years. The plan for development of renewable energy power sources for a period of 5 years shall include the total capacity scale for each renewable energy power source in the 5-year period, the total capacity scale for each renewable energy power source for each load region (8 regions) and a list of transmission lines and substations (220 kV at least) to be put into operation for a period of 5 years. The 02-year plan shall have similar content but for a 2-year period only and shall be more provincial specific.

Question#3. Were issues of economic, racial, and gender equity considered in the development of PDP8?

Answer#3:
Yes, any policy of the Government must consider these issues but it is very challenging to identify whether they are well reflected into the policy including PDP8. This is a very broad and difficult question.

Question#4. Was there a debate amongst political leaders about the costs and benefits of PDP8?

Answer#4: Yes, of course. It appears that the new Government now has different views and priorities than the former and as a result the PDP8 must be revised to reflect such priorities.

As you may know, in late March 2021, the very first draft of PDP8 PM Decision (“Draft Decision”) has been published through unofficial sources (i.e. not through the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT)’s website). Such PM Draft Decision was planned to be signed off at the end of March during the last days of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s administration, but it was delayed as the hand-over to new administration was already under way. It appeared that the investors and LNG-to-power projects in this first PM Draft Decision were scaled down comparing to those in the PDP8 proposal published by Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) earlier.

On 23 April 2021, the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Le Van Thanh directed a Government’s meeting on the PDP8 and concluded that, among others, PDP8 must be (i) updated with qualifications for prioritized projects, and (ii) revised to reasonably review and allocate development of power sources, especially LNG-to-power projects in PDP8 in order to ensure the competition, optimization on development of power system. DPM asked the MOIT to careful review and digest opinion from EVN in its official letter No. 1645/EVN-KH dated 2 April 2021. Finally, the DPM required the MOIT to submit the updated PDP8 proposal prior to 15 June 2021.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 situation and heavy workload on updating the PDP8 proposal, MOIT failed to submit a revised proposal to the Government for consideration. On 17 June 2021, the MOIT Minister arranged a press meeting to update the PDP8 progress and planned to submit the revised PDP8 proposal to the Government within June 2021. So far, based on our intel, the MOIT is still reworking its draft and PDP8 is expected to be approved COB this year ideally.

Question#5. What role did various stakeholders (e.g., business, not-for-profits) take in advocating for or against PDP8 or trying to influence its development?

Answer#5:
Yes, there are many stakeholders here, e.g., EVN, local developers, business communities (such as Chambers and VBF) and state authorities. However, please kindly note that the draft PDP8 is mainly drafted by the Energy Institution (NB: an institution under EVN until it was taken over by MOIT since 2010). The MOIT was collecting opinion from all stakeholders for the draft PDP8 made by the Energy Institution. It is worth noting that the opinion from EVN is always critically important as it (including its affiliates and subsidiaries) still remains the position of a monopoly wholesaler in the market. The new Government requested the MOIT to revisit EVN’s opinion for revising the current draft PDP8.

Question#6. Which key stakeholders were in favour of PDP8? How did they organize and influence decision making?

Answer#6:
Yes, it is very challenging to answer black or white on this question. PDP8 is the prioritized policy of the Government for the energy sector. Thus, there is always a favorable trend for this policy to come out soon. We however do note that there are different views on the contents of the PDP8, but not an issue of support or opposition.

Question#7. Which key stakeholders were against PDP8? How did they organize and influence decision making? Were there specific measures to address their concerns?

Answer#7:
Yes, it is very challenging to answer a black or white question. PDP8 is the prioritized policy of the Government for the energy sector. Thus, there is always a favorable trend for this policy to come out soon. We however do note that there are different views on the contents of the PDP8, but not an issue of support or opposition.

Question#8. Has PDP8 been well-received by the public?

Answer#8:
Yes, it has been well received by the public. However, the foreign invested business communities still have some concerns, among others, over the current PDP8:
• No clear plan for variable renewable energy in the technology mix. PDP8 must ensure Vietnam planning remains cutting-edge to include full representation of variability and assessing power system reliability.
• No plan for nuclear power.
• Need to construct a regulatory and permitting environment that attracts private sector investment in clean energy generation and energy efficiency.
• Need a clear policy to ensure EVN to share the market risks: e.g., a bankable (take or pay) power purchase agreement with generators.
• Need to halt further development of coal based projects: it is recommended to suspend the approval of any new coal thermal power plants and conducting a strategic review of those that are already approved but which do not have financing or power purchase agreements.
• Need to develop a flexible transmission network in view of the market orientation and increased variable renewable energy.
• Need to build schemes to address the uncertainties: from fuel prices to demand growth and oversupply and curtailment.

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For more information on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the author Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC, Member to the Supervisory Board of PetroVietnam Insurance JSC and the only foreign lawyer presenting in Vietnamese language to members of the NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF VIETNAM.