PRIME Minister Hun Sen presided over the opening of the first stage of the Chinese-funded Kamchay hydropower dam in Kampot province on Monday, saying the US$280 million project, which has prompted concerns about potential environmental and social impacts, would lower national power costs.
“We have envisioned having this hydropower dam not just recently, but since the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era,” Hun Sen said during a launch ceremony at the dam site, adding that the dam would also help prevent flooding in the provincial capital.
Hun Sen said the dam – which is expected to be complete by the end of 2011 – will allow the government to scale back its annual budget for subsidies designed to reduce the cost of diesel-generated power.
“Currently, we use a lot of diesel for producing power, so when the electricity is connected from here we will reduce the use of diesel,” he said.
The government spends roughly $20 million per year on subsidies to curb the high price of electricity, he added.
Zhang Jinfeng, China’s ambassador to Cambodia, was also on hand for the opening of the Kamchay dam’s first 10-megawatt stage.
Under its agreement with the government, Sinohydro, the Chinese state firm building the dam, will operate on its own for 40 years before it is turned over to Cambodian control.
Suy Sem, minister of industry, mines and energy, said at the launch that the Kamchay project will provide 193.2 megawatts of power – divided into 10-megawatt, 3.2-megawatt and 180-megawatt construction stages.
Environmental activists continue to express concerns about the project, arguing that it has moved forward with only cursory environmental
oversight and little consultation with local communities.
“We worry about what impact this dam will have on Bokor [National Park]’s forest and threatened species living in the reservoir area, as this area is well known for its high biodiversity,” said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia. He added that the dam had already been approved by the time the initial environmental impact assessment of the project was complete.
He said the dam would cause communities living around the project site to lose access to non-timber forest products, which he described as an “important” source of supplementary income.
Chhith Sam Ath also called on Sinohydro to make its mitigation and compensation plans publicly available, saying, the “community has informed to us [that] they were never consulted by the company regarding any of the negative impacts the dam would cause and the mitigation measures that would be needed”.
A January 2008 report co-authored by the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia and the US-based International Rivers concluded that the project raised “important questions regarding both [Sinohydro’s] and the Cambodian government’s commitment to transparency, accountability, public participation, and the incorporation of adequate environmental and social safeguards”.