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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Grid holds hope of cheaper power in 2008

Grid holds hope of cheaper power in 2008

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High-voltage 220kV lines are bringing power to Cambodia from Vietnam and Thailand.

P hnom Penh, now dependent for electricity on costly oil-driven generators, will get its power from Vietnam by 2008 as part of a national plan that will see eastern and southern provinces connected to Vietnam's electricity grid, and the north and west connected to Thailand's, a government official has told the Post.

Electricity sells at between 600 and 2,000 riel per kilowatt hour in Cambodia, among the highest prices in the world. Buying it from the neighboring countries should reduce the price to as low as 250 riel per kWh.

And on November 27 Prime Minister Hun Sen invited foreign investors, especially China, to help develop hydroelectric power generation in Cambodia, to further diversify the power supply away from costly gasoline and diesel generation.

But Cambodia's electricity supply remains so undeveloped that even after the development of hydroelectric power and linking with the Thai and Vietnamese electrical grids, the government envisages that by 2030 only 70 percent of the nation's households will have power.

Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME), said the ministry is inviting companies to bid to install poles and a 220-kilovolt transmission line from Vietnam to Phnom Penh through Takeo province. In the first two or three years of operation Vietnam will supply 80 megawatts of power, then this will rise to 200MW.

"Power imported from Vietnam and Thailand is much cheaper than power generated in Cambodia," Praing said, "When the transmission line is connected, it will help us to reduce the use of fuel generators."

Praing said Cambodia has had an intergovernmental agreement with Vietnam on power supply since 1999. Since 2002 Krek and Memot districts of Kampong Cham province, Kampong Ror district of Svay Rieng province and Kampong Trach district of Kampot have been connected to Vietnam's electricity grid.

Yim Viseth, an official at the electricity regulation department of the Electricity Authority of Cambodia (EAC), confirmed that the agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam to connect Phnom Penh with Vietnam's electricity grid through Takeo province is complete and the search is on for a company to construct poles and transmission lines.

"I hope the connecting process will start in 2008," Viseth said, "We had to wait for approval from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank." The two banks are lending $55 million toward the project.

Viseth said as well as providing electricity from Vietnam across Takeo straight to Phnom Penh, the plan included building a substation in Takeo to supply electricity to people living within 40km. The supply authority is also considering a link from Vietnam to Kep municipality.

Lam Du Son, deputy director of Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), said EVN would provide electricity to Cambodia at two levels: low and medium voltage (22kV to 35kV) for border areas such as Kampong Cham, Svay Rieng, Koh Thom district of Kandal, Kampot and Kratie, and the 220kV high voltage line straight to Phnom Penh.

Du Son said EVN had built a high-voltage line from Chau Doc to the border in February 2006 and it remained only for Cambodia to build the 112km of transmission line from the border to Phnom Penh, along with the Takeo substation.

"EVN is also studying the feasibility of a 110kV line to Kampong Cham and is considering connections to Kirivong of Takeo and the Kh'am Samnor and Kork Roka border gates," Du Son said. "All electricity supplied to Cambodia is under the control of EVN and based on requests from the Cambodian side."

A Vietnamese Embassy official in Phnom Penh, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Post that Vietnam was signing up to supply electricity to large parts of Cambodia even though some remote parts of Vietnam were still without electricity.

Meanwhile transmission lines are being built from the Thai border to three northwestern provinces, though not in time to supply Siem Reap with electricity promised for the opening of the Angkor-Gyeongju exhibition.

MIME's Praing said the government had signed an agreement with Thailand's privately owned Electricity Generating Company to build 115 kV lines to supply 85MW of power to Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap and Battambang provinces. The project is estimated to cost approximately $20 million and will run for 25 years under a build-operate-transfer agreement.

He said poles and transmission lines from Poipet to Siem Reap had been installed but the power could not be provided in time for the Angkor-Gyeongju exhibition, which runs from November 21, 2006 to January 9, 2007.

Praing said since 2000, Koh Kong, Poipet and some districts of Battambang province have been connected to Thailand's electricity grid on a low 22kV voltage.

On Sum, governor of Banteay Meanchey province, said some districts along the Thai border were using Thai electricity, in particular at Poipet, where local business tycoon Senator Kok An had signed up to buy electricity from Thailand several years ago. Sisophon is supplied with EDC electricity but it is insufficient to meet demand.

"We still face electricity shortages," Sum said, "Some districts use private electricity, but it is expensive."

Sum said there had been problems building the high-voltage power line from Thailand to Siem Reap: overweight trucks bringing the equipment had broken the road, slowing the project.

But Cheam Kosen, director of Siem Reap's EDC branch operation, told the Post that about 95 percent of poles and the transmission lines connecting from Poipet to Siem Reap have already completed and the town would be on line in early 2007.

"We have set up a 22kV substation in Pouk district so the people living along the transmission line will have access to the power," Kosen said.

He said Siem Reap was depending on 15 megawatts produced by a black-oil-and-diesel generator, supplying roughly 13,000 households at 870 riel per kWh.

"In 2007, Siem Reap's EDC will expand the transmission line to three major locations in Siem Reap to meet the demanding of usage which grow 20 percent annually," Kosen said.

Voeun Phally, 25, who lives in Teuk Vel commune in Pouk district just 8km from Siem Reap town, was excited to see electricity poles installed in front of her wooden house. Her family had never had access to the state or private electricity, and depended on a battery for lighting.

"I'm very happy and expect to receive electricity during the Khmer New Year," Phally said. "My father will buy a karaoke machine and I will have a chance to sing songs. We do not think about the price, we need electricity."

During Prime Minister Hun Sen's to China in late October, China promised to build hydroelectric dams at four places in Pursat province.

China is already engaged in the Kamchay hydropower dam above Kampot, which is expected to supply 190MW by 2010.

On November 27, Hun Sen told 1,000 students at a graduation ceremony at the Royal University of Law and Economics that the government had urged foreign investors, especially those from China, to invest in the hydroelectric sector to help bring down the price of electricity.

"I requested the Chinese Ambassador here to attract her country's companies to invest in hydroelectric power generation in Cambodia," he said, according to Xinhua news agency.

On October 23, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a further $20 million loan for a second 230kV power transmission line from Vietnam, running through Kampot to Sihanoukville. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) is providing a loan of more than $22 million towards the project.

The project will facilitate reduction in electricity tariffs in Sihanoukville to between 250 and 350 riel per kWh, and will allow rural households living along the transmission line corridor to have access to reliable and lower-cost electricity from the grid.

"The present mode of power generation is expensive and inefficient, as it does not achieve economies of scale and cannot meet growing demand," said Tianhua Luo, an ADB energy specialist, on October 23.

Praing said the ADB and JBIC have completed the feasibility study of the Kampot-Sihanoukville project; it will start in mid 2007 and be complete at the end of 2010.

Électricité du Cambodge (EDC) supplies electricity only in Phnom Penh and major provincial towns. Elsewhere, in 2003, there were between 600 and 1,000 small independent electricity providers supplying electricity to about 120,000 households for an average of four hours per day. But the electricity is expensive, reflecting the cost of petrol and diesel generators, and the poor economies of scale.

Praing said only 17 percent of the total population, and 85 percent of residences in Phnom Penh, were supplied with electricity now. The government planned that by 2020 all villages will be connected to electricity and by the 2030 at least 70 percent of households will have power.

"This target is to depend on the participation of the private sector to produce and supply power," Praing said, "You can see the power usage increasing every day. In Phnom Penh alone, the increase is between 25 and 30 percent annually."

Praing said that in Phnom Penh, EDC alone could not produce enough power to meet demand, so it was buying 45MW each from two private companies, Cambodia Electricity Private (CEP) and Khmer Electric Power (KEP), and 30MW from a Malaysian company called Cambodia Utility Power Ltd.

Praing said two hydroelectric dams are going to be built on the Sre Pok and Se San rivers in Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng, and they should begin producing power between 2016 or 2020, which would be supplied to Greater Mekong Subregion countries.

"The dams will provide thousands of megawatts," he said.

The Post has previously reported that these dams will be built and operated by Vietnam, which would receive the electricity generated and sell it back to Cambodia.

Laek Housan, chief of Svay Rieng industry, mines and energy office said three districts of the province had been connected to electricity from Vietnam since 2005 and two other districts will be connected in 2007.

"At the moment about 15 percent of families in the province have access to electricity and by 2015, I hope 100 percent of families will have power ," Housan said.

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