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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kampot poised to enter world of hydroelectric power

Kampot poised to enter world of hydroelectric power

The Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro is poised to begin building a 110-meter-high

hydroelectric dam on Kampot's Kamchay River next month, and locals are giving voice

to a range of concerns.

Townsfolk fear that the giant dam, 15km upriver from Kampot, could burst, drowning

them all. Environmentalists point out that the dam will flood more than 1,000 hectares

of forest in Bokor National Park. Durian farmers on land below the dam site fear

their orchards will be ruined by fluctuating river flows. And vendors at the Teuk

Chhu waterfall downriver from the dam are afraid its construction will deter tourists.

Khuon Sambath, 49, a villager in Mak Prang commune, who has been farming durian for

more than a decade, says he is concerned that the dam will make seasonal water flows

more extreme: his durian trees could be destroyed by the land being saturated in

the rainy season then desiccating in the dry season.

"Not only my durian but all people in the commune will be affected by the dam,"

Sambath said. "I will complain to the company and government if my durian farm

is damaged when the dam is built."

A food seller at Teuk Chhu resort said she is happy that the dam ultimately will

provide her with electricity, but worries that while it is being built the river

will stop flowing, tourists will stop coming and she will have to close her shop.

"I want the company to make sure that the river flows as usual, so tourists

will keep coming to swim," she said.

The government licensed Sinohydro to build the dam in February 2006 and it is expected

to be finished by 2010. Sinohydro general affairs officer Kim Sovan said the company

was investing $280 million on the project and will run it for 40 years on a build-operate-transfer

basis.

Sovan said a feasibility study is now complete and Sinohydro will begin construction

next month. The company is bringing construction equipment from China. The government

strongly supports the project, he said.

"Our firm, the government, and local residents will all benefit from the project,"

Sovan said. "We will develop Teuk Chhu to become the most beautiful tourism

resort."

Bun Heng, director of the environment department of Kampot, said the dam will affect

some people living around the Teuk Chhou waterfall and people cannot enter to cut

bamboo in the area any more. But he said a committee set up to evaluate potential

damage showed that it would not be serious.

"The government has a policy to compensate to all affected residents,"

Heng said. "What we are doing will not affect their living conditions."

Heng said the dam will not pollute the water downstream where tourists swim, and

will help to prevent flooding in Kampot town in the rainy season.

Sovan said Sinohydro was aware of likely adverse effects on residents, but said it

was the government's responsibility to compensate them. Although visitors might be

deterred from visiting Teuk Chhu during the three years of construction, ultimately

it would be a great tourist attraction because it would be the first big dam built

in the country, and easily accessible.

"I think the construction process will go well and will be complete on time,"

Sovan said.

Taing Sophanara, officer in charge of environment of SAWAC Consultants for Development,

a company commissioned to assess the environmental impact of the dam, said farms

in the area would not be seriously affected, but the dam will damage thousands of

hectares of forest. Sinohydro will replant trees every year surrounding the Bokor

National Park, he said.

"What people are concerned about is the collapse of the dam, because we have

never had anything like this before," Sophanara said. "The Chinese firm

assures us that the dam will be safe. I think it will be beneficial to local people

when it is complete."

Sophanara said that because of the great cost of building the dam, the price of the

electricity it produces will be higher than that imported from neighboring countries.

But it would be a sustainable source of power produced within the country, and it

was important to diversify sources of electricity.

The wholesale price of Kamchay power would be about 700 riel per kilowatt hour, compared

with 600 to 650 riel/kWh for electricity bought from Vietnam.

Sophanara said Canada and Russia had each explored the possibility of building a

Kamchay hydroelectric dam since 1950, and Japan had done so in 1992. All had rejected

it because of the high cost.

"The government decided to allow the Chinese company to build the dam to reduce

the high price of electricity produced by oil-driven generators," Sophanara

said. "You can see the price of electricity at the moment is very expensive."

Sinohydro's Sovan said the Kamchay hydroelectric dam will produce 193 megawatts and

will sell directly to Electricité du Cambodge (EDC). The retail price of the

electricity for local people will require approval by the Electricity Authority of

Cambodia.

Sovan said when the Kamchay dam is producing power the government will reduce the

import of electricity from neighboring countries.

Chhun Hin, Kampot director of the Industry, Mines and Energy Department, said the

government had prepared 1,300 hectares above the dam for stocking water. Sinohydro

would fill the dam in three stages, the first to produce 180MW, the second another

3MW, and third the final 10MW.

Hin said the power from Kamchay hydroelectric dam will supply southern provinces

and municipalities - Kampot, Kep, Takeo and Sihanoukville - and also Phnom Penh.

Because of the shortage of electricity Cambodia needed to buy power from Vietnam

at present, but that was just temporary.

"The residents in the province here face electricity shortages, and the price

is high at 1,200 riel per kWh," Hin said, "They have protested many times

demanding that the price go down but it is impossible."

He said that to bridge the gap until the Kamchay dam begins producing power in 2010,

EDC had contracted with a local company to bring electricity from Vietnam to Kep

and to Kampot to meet demand.

Lam Du Son, deputy director of Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) has told the Post previously

that EVN sold 2.7 million kWh of electricity to Cambodia in 2002 but in the first

ten months of 2006 that had climbed to 36.4 million kWh.

Houng Chantha, head of the technical office of corporate planning and projects at

EDC also told the Post previously that EDC had encouraged private companies to invest

in power supply to meet increasing demand. At the border with Vietnam in Chrey Thom

district of Kandal, local company Anco Brother had invested to buy electricity from

Vietnam and sell it to more than 10,000 families in the district.

Hin also said that in 2007 the Kampot Cement Factory will run its own 20MW oil-driven

generator, and people in two neighboring districts will be able to buy electricity

from the factory.

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