The Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro is poised to begin building a 110-meter-high
hydroelectric dam on Kampot's Kamchay River next month, and locals are giving voice
to a range of concerns.
Townsfolk fear that the giant dam, 15km upriver from Kampot, could burst, drowning
them all. Environmentalists point out that the dam will flood more than 1,000 hectares
of forest in Bokor National Park. Durian farmers on land below the dam site fear
their orchards will be ruined by fluctuating river flows. And vendors at the Teuk
Chhu waterfall downriver from the dam are afraid its construction will deter tourists.
Khuon Sambath, 49, a villager in Mak Prang commune, who has been farming durian for
more than a decade, says he is concerned that the dam will make seasonal water flows
more extreme: his durian trees could be destroyed by the land being saturated in
the rainy season then desiccating in the dry season.
"Not only my durian but all people in the commune will be affected by the dam,"
Sambath said. "I will complain to the company and government if my durian farm
is damaged when the dam is built."
A food seller at Teuk Chhu resort said she is happy that the dam ultimately will
provide her with electricity, but worries that while it is being built the river
will stop flowing, tourists will stop coming and she will have to close her shop.
"I want the company to make sure that the river flows as usual, so tourists
will keep coming to swim," she said.
The government licensed Sinohydro to build the dam in February 2006 and it is expected
to be finished by 2010. Sinohydro general affairs officer Kim Sovan said the company
was investing $280 million on the project and will run it for 40 years on a build-operate-transfer
Sovan said a feasibility study is now complete and Sinohydro will begin construction
next month. The company is bringing construction equipment from China. The government
strongly supports the project, he said.
"Our firm, the government, and local residents will all benefit from the project,"
Sovan said. "We will develop Teuk Chhu to become the most beautiful tourism
Bun Heng, director of the environment department of Kampot, said the dam will affect
some people living around the Teuk Chhou waterfall and people cannot enter to cut
bamboo in the area any more. But he said a committee set up to evaluate potential
damage showed that it would not be serious.
"The government has a policy to compensate to all affected residents,"
Heng said. "What we are doing will not affect their living conditions."
Heng said the dam will not pollute the water downstream where tourists swim, and
will help to prevent flooding in Kampot town in the rainy season.
Sovan said Sinohydro was aware of likely adverse effects on residents, but said it
was the government's responsibility to compensate them. Although visitors might be
deterred from visiting Teuk Chhu during the three years of construction, ultimately
it would be a great tourist attraction because it would be the first big dam built
in the country, and easily accessible.
"I think the construction process will go well and will be complete on time,"
Taing Sophanara, officer in charge of environment of SAWAC Consultants for Development,
a company commissioned to assess the environmental impact of the dam, said farms
in the area would not be seriously affected, but the dam will damage thousands of
hectares of forest. Sinohydro will replant trees every year surrounding the Bokor
National Park, he said.
"What people are concerned about is the collapse of the dam, because we have
never had anything like this before," Sophanara said. "The Chinese firm
assures us that the dam will be safe. I think it will be beneficial to local people
when it is complete."
Sophanara said that because of the great cost of building the dam, the price of the
electricity it produces will be higher than that imported from neighboring countries.
But it would be a sustainable source of power produced within the country, and it
was important to diversify sources of electricity.
The wholesale price of Kamchay power would be about 700 riel per kilowatt hour, compared
with 600 to 650 riel/kWh for electricity bought from Vietnam.
Sophanara said Canada and Russia had each explored the possibility of building a
Kamchay hydroelectric dam since 1950, and Japan had done so in 1992. All had rejected
it because of the high cost.
"The government decided to allow the Chinese company to build the dam to reduce
the high price of electricity produced by oil-driven generators," Sophanara
said. "You can see the price of electricity at the moment is very expensive."
Sinohydro's Sovan said the Kamchay hydroelectric dam will produce 193 megawatts and
will sell directly to Electricité du Cambodge (EDC). The retail price of the
electricity for local people will require approval by the Electricity Authority of
Sovan said when the Kamchay dam is producing power the government will reduce the
import of electricity from neighboring countries.
Chhun Hin, Kampot director of the Industry, Mines and Energy Department, said the
government had prepared 1,300 hectares above the dam for stocking water. Sinohydro
would fill the dam in three stages, the first to produce 180MW, the second another
3MW, and third the final 10MW.
Hin said the power from Kamchay hydroelectric dam will supply southern provinces
and municipalities - Kampot, Kep, Takeo and Sihanoukville - and also Phnom Penh.
Because of the shortage of electricity Cambodia needed to buy power from Vietnam
at present, but that was just temporary.
"The residents in the province here face electricity shortages, and the price
is high at 1,200 riel per kWh," Hin said, "They have protested many times
demanding that the price go down but it is impossible."
He said that to bridge the gap until the Kamchay dam begins producing power in 2010,
EDC had contracted with a local company to bring electricity from Vietnam to Kep
and to Kampot to meet demand.
Lam Du Son, deputy director of Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) has told the Post previously
that EVN sold 2.7 million kWh of electricity to Cambodia in 2002 but in the first
ten months of 2006 that had climbed to 36.4 million kWh.
Houng Chantha, head of the technical office of corporate planning and projects at
EDC also told the Post previously that EDC had encouraged private companies to invest
in power supply to meet increasing demand. At the border with Vietnam in Chrey Thom
district of Kandal, local company Anco Brother had invested to buy electricity from
Vietnam and sell it to more than 10,000 families in the district.
Hin also said that in 2007 the Kampot Cement Factory will run its own 20MW oil-driven
generator, and people in two neighboring districts will be able to buy electricity
from the factory.