Concern has been raised by Cambodian environmentalists and politicians about the environmental impact of a coal-fired power plant costing nearly $400 million that the government plans to build at Sihanoukville.
“Burning coal is the most polluting way to generate electricity,” said Sam Chanthy, the NGO Forum’s environmental awareness and protection project officer.
“From mining to transportation, [electricity] generation and waste disposal, coal causes severe environmental problems that other energy resources do not,” Chanthy said.
He was reacting to the National Assembly’s passing on May 8 of an investment proposal to build the power plant.
Chanthy said coal-fired power plants were the leading source of atmospheric pollution caused by mercury, a potent neurotoxin.
Burning coal also releases other harmful pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates.
“These pollutants cause and aggravate respiratory diseases, damage lung tissue and can lead to premature death. They can also harm vegetation, crops and water quality,” Chanthy said.
He said some other power-generation methods had less impact on the environment and human health.
“Electricity generated by water, wind and solar rays does not have the severe environmental consequences of burning coal,” Chanthy said.
During discussion of the investment proposal in the assembly on May 8, the Sam Rainsy Party’s Yim Sovann said pollutants emitted by the plant would pose a serious threat to health and diminish Sihanoukville’s appeal as a tourist attraction.
The Funcinpec party’s Monh Saphan told the assembly that Cambodia should consider hydropower as a source of electricity rather than burning coal.
In a presentation to the assembly during the discussion, the first secretary of the Ministry of Economics and Finance, Kong Vibol, dismissed concerns about the possible environmental damage caused by the coal-fired plant.
“We have thoroughly assessed this and there is very little impact on the environment and human health,” he said.
Vibol said the proposal to build the plant adhered to Cambodia’s environmental law and standards laid down by the World Bank.
He agreed that hydropower was a better alternative in terms of a reduced effect on the environment and human health, but it was not a viable option in Cambodia because of electricity shortages during the dry season.
The Secretary of State for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, Ith Praing, said the coal-fired plant would help to bring down the cost of electricity throughout the country after it goes into operation in 2011.
Praing said the plant would initially generate 100 megawatts, which would double when it was operating at full capacity in 2012.
“The power will be sold to state-run Electricite du Cambodge for 7.212 cents a kilowatt hour, however the price will fluctuate depending on the cost of coal,” he said.
Praing said the plant will use coal from Vietnam and Indonesia.
The $391-million plant, which will occupy a 70-hectare site at O’tres commune in Sihanoukville’s Stung Hav district, is planned to develop at the end of this year by Power Synergy Corporation, a joint venture between Malaysia’s Leader Universal Holdings Berhad and Cambodia’s MKCSS Holdings, shows the project’s master plan.
Praing said Power Synergy had been granted a concession to operate the plant for 30 years, after which it would be handed over to the state.
A government master plan for developing electric power sources predicts that all villages will have access to electricity or battery power by 2020.
The master plan says 70 percent of all households will have a reliable supply of electricity by 2030, up from the current figure of 18 percent.