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Dutch investors mull $300m solar project

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Two Dutch businessmen are looking into building acres of solar panels in Cambodia to create an electricity-generating plant like this one near Boulder City, Colorado. BLOOMBERG

Businessmen backed by international financiers say scheme has government support but is still years away from launch

Two Dutch businessmen said Tuesday they were considering investing up to US$300 million to build acres of solar panels in Cambodia to generate electricity, though they warned that completion of the project could be “three to four years” away and posed several challenges.

The businessmen, Peter Wijnans and Frans Marchand, said the solar project would be backed by international investors interested in the environmentally friendly aspects of alternative energy development, they said, but declined to name the investors.

“Cambodia is a country of young people; they know that this is the right thing to do,” said Wijnans.

The group considering either one giant solar array or four or five smaller individual sites. It would resemble large international solar projects presently operating in Spain and the United States, Wijnans said.

The solar proposal already has the full support of the government, he added.

Energy demand in Cambodia is expected to grow 3.7 percent per year from 2005 to 2030 as manufacturing industries are established and more households are connected to the electricity grid, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) released earlier this month.

Just 20 percent of households are currently connected to the national grid, which is fragmented into isolated power systems centred on provincial towns and cities.

Because of the high cost of extending that grid, the report said, renewable energy technologies such as solar heating, biogas for cooking, and solar and wind power generation are potential options for extending energy to rural areas.

Trade mission
The pair were among more than 20 Dutch businessman in Phnom Penh taking part Tuesday in a trade mission organised by the embassy of the Netherlands in Thailand and the Netherlands-Thai Chamber of Commerce.

The two-day event, which concludes with a presentation by Cambodian officials, was designed to introduce Dutch businessmen to the Kingdom.

“If you’re serious about investing, it’s good to be informed and to do your own investigation,” said Wijnans, adding that he had already researched the Kingdom extensively.

Tuesday morning saw three speakers discuss the realities of doing business in Cambodia. Leopard Capital CEO Douglas Clayton, the first of the presenters, said Asia was recognised as the centre of global growth.

“Cambodia has been overlooked and it provides an opportunity to latecomers,” he said.

“Asia is blossoming, and Cambodia plays its part. It comes down to being in the right place at the right time.”

He also downplayed the country’s high-profile spat with Thailand over Preah Vihear temple and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to appoint fugitive Thai former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic adviser.

“People serious about investing here take the time to realise Preah Vihear is carefully controlled, and will not be allowed to impede economic growth,” he said.

Sjaak de Klein, country general manager of TNT Express Worldwide, said the poor domestic transportation network remains a potential pitfall to doing business in the Kingdom.

Serious road improvements are under way, but railway construction and repairs are approximately five years away from becoming a viable option for shipping goods, he said.

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