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‘Power cuts just a transitional problem’

‘Power cuts just a transitional problem’

9 edc sovan philong
Keo Ratanak, director-general of Electricite du Cambodge, talks power and energy with the Post. Photograph: Sovan Philong/Phnom Penh Post

Recurring power cuts and power shortages draw sharp complaints from Cambodia’s public, the political opposition and business owners. Keo Ratanak,  director-general of Electricite du Cambodge (EDC), talked to the Post’s Sarah Thust.

What is EDC doing to reduce electricity cuts here?
The issue of power shortage is not a surprise to the Royal Government of Cambodia and EDC. We had forecasted many years ago that Cambodia would be precisely in the situation that it is in today.

That is the reason why EDC and the government had been working very, very hard to attract investment for [power] generation projects in hydropower, in coal-fire plants, in biomass power plants, and importing power from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

At the same time we try to work to attract investment towards the areas of transmission and distribution, and also try to attract financing in concessionary terms from development partners.

What is the reason for the electricity shortages, then?  
Investment needs time and construction of projects needs time. Each construction usually takes four to five years, [not including] the time to negotiate, to close the financing.  

Part of the problem also is that under the agreement we reached with Vietnam they are supposed to give us 200 megawatts at least, up to now, but they only gave us 170 megawatts, because Vietnam itself faces shortages.

The problem with the power from Thailand is a little bit different from Vietnam. It’s about technical constraints. The line that comes to our border is of small capacity, so to transmit more than 100 megawatts to Cambodia is difficult.

However, we’ve been able to secure the upgrade on the Thai side, while we are also doing an upgrade on our side.

That’s why you see now that cutting is still happening, but much less. That’s why we now have power cuts at less than 10 megawatts and shorter hours per day. It used to be four or five hours, like 70 megawatt power cuts.

What else can Electricite du Cambodge do?
We’re raising the number of hours from our Kamchay hydropower dam. And, at the same time, by taking the last, drastic option by asking hotels and guesthouses to use power generators during this transition period. Some hotels even can switch back to our EDC power.

This problem is only transitional, for the past couple of months that we’ve seen already, and May up to latest mid-June, because by mid-June at the latest we will have commissioned a 50 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Sihanoukville.

The line is ready, but the power plant is almost ready. If that is coming, Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kampong Speu – no more cuts. And, of course, after that this will be the end of this problem. This is a very short period and we’ve asked the public to understand and exercise power conservation and saving.

There still are a lot of provinces that are not connected to the grid. How are you addressing this issue?
First, in the next few years all the projects that we have signed will be completed, meaning that they will add power to the grid system, meaning that any community, district or villages that are connected to the national grid will not have a problem with the power supply. The power will be a lot.

But that is not the solution to the problem yet. The problem is that we still have to invest more on the transmission lines, substations and distribution. And that means we’re going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars extending the transmission lines, the substations, the sub-transmission lines and distribution lines to reach poor households.

I’m strongly optimistic that you will see a remarkable change to the situation in rural areas in the next one or two years because we have already lined up the investment and the construction is already ongoing.

If you compare that with five years ago . . . you can’t deny the fact that this country has made huge progress in electrification, but there is a lot more to do and that’s the reason why the government is doing more to have more generation projects, transmission projects and, of course, distribution projects. It is to have the ability to bridge the price gap between urban and rural areas. The poor will have more benefits. That’s on the way and that’s going to be happening in the next term of the government.

What are the likely future power sources of Cambodia?  
Hydro, coal and imported power from Vietnam, Thailand and Laos for the foreseeable future. Diesel will be phased out. Fuels have to be phased out one by one because they are too expensive.

At the same time we’re aggressively exploring the possibility of renewable energies like biomass, and even solar, where we need to see if we can afford it.

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