By Joseph Tawie
The state government has still not given the green light for the impoundment of the RM7.3 billion Bakun dam, which is already behind schedule, and this is causing concern to Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd. The delay will cost Sarawak Hidro, the owner and developer of the dam, a staggering amount in interest payment on its loan to the Employees Provident Fund.
Sarawak Hidro is wholly owned by Minister of Finance Inc.
“From next year, an additional interest payment of RM10 million per month will be incurred as the dam is already five months behind schedule.
“It will take seven months from the impounding date for the dam to reach its minimum level in order to generate power,” Sarawak Hidro managing director Zulkiflie Osman told reporters recently.
Sarawak Hidro wanted the impoundment to begin by end-2010 to curb the adverse impact on costs, waiting time and staff morale.
But the state government appears hesitant, perhaps due to political consideration as the state election must be held before July next year.
“If the dam is to be impounded now, it will become a very hot political issue in the coming election and it may even cause the downfall of the state government,” said a veteran politician.
“From the moment the dam is impounded, there are fears that the mighty Rajang River may dry up even though there are some small rivers including the Baleh River to supply water to the Rajang River,” he said.
But the water from these rivers may not be sufficient enough to make the Rajang River navigable.
“If the Rajang River should dry up, the people are worried that they may not be able to communicate by express boats. They will suffer economically, the fish and other marine life will diminish, and houses constructed along the river banks will be affected as the water level sinks. Houses will become cheap in downstream towns like Kapit, Kanowit, Sibu and Sarikei.
“People will start to migrate to other towns,” said the politician who declined to be identified.
Understandably, the state government is unwilling to take that risk even though consultants have assured them that nothing of that sort would happen.
But the people are unlikely to believe or trust the government.
These are the issues that the state government does not want the opposition to use to frighten the people in the coming election.
The delay is also expected to cause potential investors in Sarawak Corridor of Renewal Energy (SCORE) to put on hold their investments as they are uncertain of the power supply.
Many are thinking of diverting their investments elsewhere as they cannot wait much longer.
Besides political consideration, the delay could also be attributed to the on-going discussions between Sarawak Hidro and Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) for the sale of the dam to SEB.
Sources close to the state government said that SEB has offered to buy the dam for RM6 billion, but Sarawak Hidro wants to let it go for RM8 billion.
The state government, unhappy with the federal government’s decision to scrap the under cable transmission to the Peninsula, wants SEB to take full control of the project so that it can supply electricity to SCORE without any federal government influence.
Of course, the state government and SEB have other reasons for taking over the dam.
The dam will operate initially on one turbine that is capable of generating up to 300MW and, by the end of next year, between 600MW and 900MW will be available for use of industries in Sarawak.
Sarawak needs about 900MW.
By 2020, all the eight turbines will be fully utilised to produce 2,420MW and with power from the Murum dam, the total capacity can easily reach 3,344MW.
The 95-metre high Bakun dam is the second largest in the world and is expected to submerge an area of 700 sq km, displacing some 10,000 natives of Kayan, Kenyah and Penan origins.
In addition to the Bakun, Murum and Bengoh dams, the state government is planning to build 11 more dams in the state – FMT
Source: Hornbill Unleashed