PRIME Minister Hun Sen yesterday presided over the groundbreaking of the Stung Tatay hydroelectric dam project in Koh Kong province, describing Koh Kong as “a battery province” that could help sate the country’s rising energy needs.
In his speech, the premier appealed to the private sector to invest in transmission lines to connect Stung Tatay and other dams to the power grid in Koh Kong province, encouraging involvement from both local and Chinese companies.
“We appeal to Chinese companies to invest in electric transmission lines, so that electricity can be connected to every place [nationwide],” Hun Sen said.
“We have electricity, so we need transmission lines.”
He said private investment was necessary because it is difficult for the government to secure loans from other countries.
The 246-megawatt Stung Tatay dam, which is being built by China National Heavy Machinery Co Ltd at a cost of US$540 million, is the second of four hydropower dams planned for the province to begin construction.
The natural flow of the river will be significantly disturbed.
On December 28, Hun Sen presided over the groundbreaking of the 338-megawatt Stung Russey Chrum Krom project in Koh Kong, which is being built by China Huadian Corporation.
The projects have drawn criticism from environmentalists, who have raised concerns about the impact the dams could have on Southern Cardamom’s Protected Forest and the livlihoods of local residents.
Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner for the NGO International Rivers, said yesterday that the dams pose a major risk to “more than 2,000 hectares of evergreen forest and animal habitat which are expected to be inundated by the dam’s reservoir”. She added that the “natural flow of the river will be significantly disturbed”.
Trandem said there has already been disruption and water pollution from the influx of construction workers to the area and called for construction to stop “until a proper environmental mitigation plan is developed and carefully implemented”.
Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, yesterday called for a committee of community leaders, local authorities, civil society, company representatives, and relevant ministries to be formed in a bid to increase transparency around dam projects and include local groups in decision making.
Speaking during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Stung Russey Chrum Krom project, however, Hun Sen lashed out at critics of the dams, saying environmental impacts were a natural consequence of economic progress.
“Is there any development that happens without an impact on the environment and natural resources? Please give us a proper answer,” Hun Sen said.
The premier said society inevitably exacts a toll on the environment, making a bizarre allusion to proposed taxes on carbon emissions in other countries.
“Only the wind that we breathe comes without a fee, but in other countries, they have to pay,” he said.
“Even with farts, there is a tax, and though they do not say the tax comes from farts, it is implied when they talk about the value of biodiversity.”