Prime Minister Hun Sen stood up for Cambodia’s energy policy yesterday at the inauguration of the Stung Tatai hydropower dam in Koh Kong province, even going so far as to label opponents of hydropower technology “extremists”.
The $540 million project began construction in 2011 and was completed in August 2014.
Hun Sen said the dam was “a New Year souvenir” that would soon provide electricity to places as far afield as Battambang and Siem Reap.
Critics have pointed to impacts such as deforestation and loss of habitat and fish stocks as causes for concern.
In the case of the Tatai dam, evidence collected by officials during the clearing of the reservoir zone showed about $227 million worth of protected Siamese rosewood had been logged illegally from the surrounding Cardamom Mountains during the dam’s construction by the firm contracted to clear the site.
Hun Sen brushed aside such concerns yesterday, saying Cambodians “have to pay the price” of development.
He mocked what he dubbed “environmental extremists” by joking that the government would cut off their electricity supply and offer resin torches as a replacement.
Fourteen hydropower dams are expected to be operational in Cambodia by 2020. The largest of these, the Lower Sesan II dam in Stung Treng province, is currently under construction.
Cambodia still imports much of its electricity from neighbours Vietnam and Thailand under power purchase agreements signed in the late 1990s.
Tek Vannara of the NGO Forum said the public was still waiting to see evidence that the hydropower boom would not cause “serious impacts”.
Additional reporting by Reuters