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Cambodia’s Lower Sesan II Hydropower Project provides a better life for resettled villagers

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Lower Sesan II Hydropower Station in Stung Treng province. Supplied

Despite being one of Southeast Asia’s rapidly growing economies, Cambodia is facing an energy shortage which has slowed development. The government and the Department of Public Management have invested heavily in the energy industry to combat the shortage.

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The Lower Sesan II Hydropower Station in Stung Treng province is the most iconic project launched by the department. It aims to not only contribute to the national energy industry but to improve the quality of life for Cambodians as well.

The Lower Sesan II Hydropower Project is a joint venture between China, the Royal Group of  Cambodia, one of the most  premier investment and development company in Cambodia and  recognised as the country’s most dynamic and diversified business conglomerate  and Vietnam Electricity. China Huaneng Group is responsible for the construction, operation and management of the project.

Due to the construction of the Lower Sesan II Hydropower Station, China Huaneng Group built news houses to relocate 840 households, a total of 3,690 people, who were living near the site. Srel Kor Thmey village is home to 500 of these relocated families.

Ki Mon, a 45-year-old mother of two, said the new village provides her family with a convenient life, high-quality roads, drainage systems, clean water, cheap electricity, schools and hospitals which were not available in her old village.

“In the old village, I had a thatched house and a small patch of farmland. After I agreed to move, the company built an 80 square metre wooden house for me. The land that belongs to me now is 1,000 square metres,” she said. “The company also compensated the crops I lost in the old village, and the government also gave me another 5 hectares of farmland.”

Ming Va, another resident of Srel Kor Thmey village, said: “I am very happy as my youngest son received a scholarship from China Huaneng Group. The scholarship included cash and stationery. They are issued every year in the company’s newly built school. After receiving the scholarship, my son was very happy and he now studies harder.”

Cai Kaiming, a Cambodian employee of China Huaneng Group, is in charge of the resettlement compensation. He has witnessed the improvement of the villagers’ lives. “I’m very happy to see the villagers enjoying their new life. I am satisfied. It embodies our company’s purposes: to provide energy and to benefit the people of Cambodia.”

The station was built on Srepok River, a tributary of the Tonle San River, and is the largest hydropower station in Cambodia. It has even been considered as a symbol of energy independence in Cambodia.

The project started in 2014 and the power station was completed five years later. The Lower Sesan II Hydropower Station has an annual power generation capacity of 1.97 billion kWh.

In October 2018, all eight units of the power station were put into operation for power generation, with a total installed capacity of 400,000 kilowatts. This accounts for about 20 percent of Cambodia’s national installed power generation capacity. The power station even supplies power to Phnom Penh.

According to Yang Xiaoyu, an engineer working at the power station, the principle of hydropower is to covert the flow of water into energy. Hydropower does not affect the water flow. Hydroelectric power uses energy from water but does not consume or reduce the amount of water present.

The company believes environmental protection is very important. As part of its corporate social responsibility measures, China Huaneng Group invested more than $1.5 million to build fish ladders to maintain the diversity of fish in the river.

The fish ladder is located in the downstream section of the power station and has been in operation for three years. It has a total length of 3,293 metres and there is a resting pool every 800 meters which create good conditions for fish migration.

According to a power plant engineer, Nong Zuguan, there are 34 species of long-distance migratory fishes in the river, and the fish migration season is from April to August and November to December each year. “To record the migration of fish, the company commissioned a professional team to install monitoring equipment. When the fish swim past it, the equipment automatically takes videos and photos and uploads the information to the office computer system.

China Huaneng Group has created many local jobs and recruited and trained a large number of Cambodian engineers to participate in the operation and management.

They have cultivated a new generation of electric power engineers for Cambodia, formulated a 15-year training plan for Cambodian electrical engineers and clarified detailed training content and job promotion standards. Experienced Chinese engineers signed a “mentorship agreement” with the local engineers to provide “one-on-one” training.

One of the Cambodian engineers working at the station, known as Rous, said: “Thank you, boss. I think that I am an expert in the energy industry now. I have started to learn the basics of electric power and I now understand the basic equipment and factory buildings.”

“I am very happy to work in this Fortune 500 company,” said Makara, another Cambodian engineer at the station. This is his first job. Makara said that after working as an engineer for four years, his professional skills have matured and he is proud that he is an engineer who can work independently.

After the completion of the dam, a reservoir was also formed.

The abundant water storage capacity of the reservoir can effectively solve the agricultural irrigation problems in the surrounding area and promote the development of crop planting. According to China Huaneng Group, a large farm will be formed around the reservoir and become Cambodia’s largest banana plantation. This will provide more than 20,000 jobs every year and increase local employment opportunities.

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