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Located near the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers in the Stung Treng Province is Cambodia’s newest dam, the 400-megawatt Lower Sesan 2, a $816 million joint project between China-based Hydrolancang International Energy, Vietnam-based EVN International and Cambodia’s Royal Group.

The dam with 33,560 hectare reservoir was put online on Sept. 26, 2017 with the plant’s first turbine generating electricity towards the end of November last year. All of the eight turbines will fully operational in October this year.

The project which sits on a 36,000 hectare plot, is expected to lower electricity costs and put Cambodia on its way to hooking up every village in the country to the electricity grid by 2022. The company will sell the electricity at a fixed rate of $0.07 per kilowatt hour, significantly less than national rates currently as high as $0.20.

The plant, to be privately operated before being handed over to the government after 40 years, is geared to producing 1.9 billion kilowatt-hour per year and generate tax revenue about $30 million per year.

Right from the beginning, the project operators as well as the government had to put up with opponents of the project – NGOs, environmentalists, and the locals – even before the excavators and heavy machinery were brought in towards the beginning of 2013. They argued that the project would cause irreversible damage to the environment and ecosystem, flood tens of thousands of hectares of forest in Stung Treng’s Sesan district and displace thousands of households, namely the indigenous communities in the province.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, however, lashed back at them, saying any form of development would have an effect on the environment. “It’s just a matter of more or less. But it requires consideration of whether we should or should not do it.”

“This project will provide great benefit to socio-economic development and poverty reduction, especially in the northeastern region,” he said, adding investors would have greater confidence in entering the Cambodian market if they could be assured that the country had a reliable national grid, providing power at competitive rates.

It will supply Stung Treng, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Preah Vihear, and Ratanakkiri provinces with electricity, this ending their dependence on electricity from Laos.

Construction of the dam affected 860 families from indigenous Bunong, Lao and ethnic Khmer communities who had to be relocated to new villages along No. 78 national road. To date, 752 families, or 88 percent of them, have been provided with assistance ranging from adequate infrastructure facilities, loans to start businesses and land for cultivation of cash crops and raising pigs.

These villagers, mostly from Sre Ko and Kbal Romeas villages, have been adjusting well to life in the new surroundings, enjoying access to better roads and electricity.

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