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Hydropower dams set to slash Pursat power costs: officials

Hydropower dams set to slash Pursat power costs: officials

As electricity prices tick over $0.50 per kWh, provincial authorities say four new dams will help alleviate Pursat's energy shortages

OFFICIALS in Pursat say planned hydropower dams will help alleviate the province's severe power shortages, but some are sceptical that local requirements justify the construction of such large-scale infrastructure.

Power shortages have seen electricity costs spiral upwards in the second half of 2008, with local residents saying they now pay as much as $0.56 per kilowatt-hour for electricity - among the most expensive power in the country.

Four hydropower dams were approved by the government in May, which officials say will provide up to 700mw of electricity. The first of the dams is expected to be online by 2010.

Spiralling costs

Yim Nareth, director of the Pursat Electricity Department, said power prices have risen because electricity in the province is generated privately.

"We buy electricity from the Pursat Power Supply Company at $0.33 per kilowatt-hour and we sell to the user at $0.46 per kilowatt-hour," she said. "We have been forced to buy from a private company because the government has not supplied the revenue necessary to develop our own systems."

She said that after failing to make a profit in three years of operation, the company threatened to withdraw from Pursat in early 2008, forcing the Ministry of Industry, Mines & Energy to let the company raise the price of power, which has led to an increase of $0.10 per kilowatt-hour since July.

"When the four dams begin operation in 2010, the private companies will move elsewhere and the price of electricity will decrease," she added.

Yim Nareth said Pursat's daily electricity demand is two mega-watts.

Pursat resident Ngean Leankkong said he is dissatisfied at the current state of the electricity supply in Pursat and awaiting the construction of the dams.

"The authorities have said the price has risen three times this year because of high petrol prices," he said. "But the petrol price has dropped now, so why hasn't the cost of electricity?"

Yim Nareth agreed the price of electricity was dependent on petrol prices, but would not comment on why prices have not dropped in line with the cost of fuel.

However, Tun Leang, deputy director general of the Department of Energy Development, said the construction of hydropower dams would not necessarily guarantee a drop in prices. "This is not something I can predict," he said.

Ngy Say, deputy executive director of NGO Forum, is also sceptical that prices will drop, and questioned the argument that the dams are being constructed to alleviate power shortages.

"These dams are not the saviours they are being promoted as," he said. "We are suspicious that the electricity created by these dams will be exported to neighbouring countries."

He added that there were many concerns about the potential impact the dams will have on local fisheries.

"The electricity demand in Cambodia does not warrant these constructions.... When we have to buy fish because the rivers are bare, how can that be seen as success?"

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