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An Areng Valley community member looks over a section of river that would be affected by the proposed hydro-powered dam project in Koh Kong province
An Areng Valley community member looks over a section of river that would be affected by the proposed hydro-powered dam project in Koh Kong province last month. Heng Chivoan

Derailed dam angers EdC boss

Electricite du Cambodge director Keo Rattanak said on Saturday that the stalled Chinese-backed hydropower project in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley has set back Cambodia’s plans to become energy self-sufficient.

Rattanak, who was speaking at a gathering for soldiers in the Odar Meanchey province, singled out the now-deported environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, as well as the opposition party, for objecting to the project. The delay, the EdC director said, would make it difficult of the national power provider to achieve its target of reducing electricity at 400 riel ($0.10) kilowatt hour by 2020.

“Alex has destroyed one hydropower project. Because of that organisation [Mother Nature], the opposition party has opposed the dam project, making us lose 108 megawatts of power,” he was quoted by local news agency DAP News on Monday.

“With every hydropower project development, the opposition party always goes for demonstrations or won’t raise their hand in support of any power projects in the National Assembly, and this is not limited to hydro or coal power plants,” he added.

Rattanak could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Cambodia produced 1,769 megawatts of power in 2013 and had to import 579 megawatts from Thailand, 1,691 megawatts from Vietnam and 10.73 megawatts from Laos.

The Kingdom is expected to generate around 3,430 megawatts by 2020 from 12 hydroelectric and coal power plants, licences for which have already been granted.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in February that the Areng hydropower project will not go forward in this mandate, following strong protests led by Gonzalez-Davidson’s organisation, Mother Nature. The project was expected to start producing power in 2017.

Son Chhay, a Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker, said yesterday that the objection to the hydropower project is due to the lack of transparency on the environmental and economic assessment of the project.

“We are not extremely opposed to the project. We were asking for a proper assessment on the social and environmental impact from the project and transparent information given to the public,” Chhay said.

Chhay said the government can bring electricity costs down by opening up the bidding process to more firms, making the market more competitive.

“Also the government signed contracts with those Chinese companies to buy power at a higher price. There is irregularity going on with the contracts. It is about mismanagement in the energy sector by the government,” he said.

The environmental impact assessment on Areng Valley project will still continue despite the prime minister’s announcement last month, Dith Tina, spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy said yesterday.

“It has already been discussed that we will need to complete the study at Areng before we can evaluate. The impact and benefits from this project will be balanced,” Tina said.

Srey Chanthy, an independent economic analyst, said the government needs to be more transparent in the energy sector, especially if it is to implement the recently adopted Industrial Development Policy.

“With projects like Areng, the cost-and-benefits analysis should be conducted and open for public awareness. Study on Areng has been conducted for nearly 10 years, but nothing much about the results was released to the public,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference in Phnom Penh yesterday, visiting Asian Development Bank president Takehiko Nakao said the ADB, which currently does not fund hydropower projects, would consider funding them in the future, but only when resettlement issues and the environmental impact are managed properly.

“So we need to keep providing electricity to all people. So, if hydro is one of the options, then we should explore it with caution, with a prudent approach,” Nakao added.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL DE CARTERET

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