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A man strings up new power line and conducts maintenance in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district
A man strings up new power line and conducts maintenance in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district. Heng Chivoan

EdC under pressure

One month after the capital’s power provider promised to end chronic city blackouts for good this hot season, residents and businesses continue to find themselves sweltering in the heat and throwing away any spoilable goods due to the unpredictable losses of electricity.

In March, Electricite du Cambodge employees swore the company had enough resources this year to keep up with rising demand, and would not need to resort, as in every year past, to a series of “rolling cuts” where power shuts off along some city blocks so that others can have uninterrupted service.

The cuts are by no means completely curtailed, but many of the city’s residents said blackouts this year aren’t as long or as frequent as in previous seasons.

“This year it is much better, we still have outages, but they only last two hours compared to last year when there would be no electricity morning until night all during hot season,” Keo Lan, a 53-year-old motodop, said.

Lan lives near Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Chamkarmon district, an area plagued by regular, eight- to 10-hour shortages.

“The electricity goes to businesses and where high officials live or embassies are located. It’s unfair,” Lan said. “We have to eat dinner in the dark and buy candles even though we pay for electricity too.”

The restaurants and businesses near Lan’s house confirmed his suspicions: they said they have no trouble with blackouts, even when the houses down the street are dark.

With nowhere to cool down during power outages, Chamkarmon dwellers said the loss of electricity in the hot season is more than an inconvenience, it’s also a potential health hazard.

“My kids cry and cannot sleep, it’s too hot for them when there’s no fan,” said Kim Ho, 46.

Ho said she has to bathe her 3-year-old son regularly in cool water to make sure the toddler doesn’t overheat.

“Any goods in the fridge spoil and we have to throw away our food. It can cost us a lot,” she said.

Phnom Penh, which, according to a UN draft report, accounts for up to 70 per cent of the country’s total electricity consumption, required more than 400 megawatts in 2012, though it was supplied only 290 megawatts, most of which was imported from Vietnam.

At rates soaring above 25 cents per kilowatt hour, Phnom Penh’s electricity is also some of the most expensive in Southeast Asia.

But with several hydropower plants that have just recently gone online or soon to launch operations, a new coal plant in Sihanoukville this year and electrical grid repairs completed, the city’s power company remains confident that chronic outages will be a thing of the past.

“This hot season, we expect the power usage to increase,” said an Electricite du Cambodge official who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that he could not provide exact figures for this year’s estimated demand.

“I can say this year there will be less blackouts. It’s [already] much better, affecting only 2 or 3 per cent of the population,” he said.

Urban Voice Cambodia, a crowd-sourcing platform which maps city blackouts, lists 20 outage incidents last April, but this month was notified of only five shortages.

Still, project coordinator My Sovann isn’t expecting a complete halt to the city’s blackout problems any time soon.

“The [city’s power company] is always afraid the government will put the blame on them for failing to adequately supply the city, so they are under a lot of pressure to fix problems quickly,” Sovann said.

“But the shortages will continue, they don’t just go away over night and more and more people are always coming to Phnom Penh, so even if the company plans for enough [electricity] to cover last year’s shortages, it won’t be enough for the next year.”

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