M oving to stem monthly losses of U.S. $0.5 million in an outdated, inefficient
electricity supply system plagued by constant blackouts, the Cambodia
Electricity (EDC) is poised to take control of Phnom Penh's sub-station
distribution system and also intends to hike the price of electricity to around
350 riels per kilowatt hour.
The sub-stations, known as cabines, are
small one room buildings which dot Phnom Penh's streets. They are currently run
by private retailers under a licensing contract which mandates they re-sell
power to individual consumers for 180 riel per kilowatt hour. However, retailers
are known to overcharge regularly.
After purchasing power from EDC's
four generators, at a cost of 170 riel per kilowatt hour, the sale price for
end-users is sometimes as high as 600 riels per kilowatt hour.
of the EDC's distribution department, Ty Norin, is sympathetic to the plight of
"In the contract, the retailer can sell electricity for
180 riels, only ten riels is profit," said Norin. "In one month the retailer can
sell ten thousand kilowatt hours.
"If you calculate this, he makes only
100,000 riels per month. They cannot (make) money because they have four or five
people to control. How can they pay their people with only 100 thousand riels?
They also have a problem with the cost of materials to maintain the network." he
The EDC's four generators, some of which were installed in the
1920's have a maximum output of 23 megawatts (MW), and are unable to supply the
70 MWs Phnom Penh requires. Juggling this small amount of power throughout the
city is what causes regular blackouts.
According to the EDC's director,
Tan Kim Vinn, seven MWs is reserved for a guaranteed supply to the Royal Palace,
key government ministries and certain private businesses. During daylight hours,
total power output is reduced to 16 MWs.
Funds from the World Bank and
the Asian Development Bank (ADB), according to Vinn, will be used to repair the
system and to increase output.
"The World Bank will initially lend us
U.S. $6.7 million," said Vinn. "A World Bank delegation which visited Phnom Penh
planned that we should buy four General Motors generators, which would have an
output of 2.1 MWs each. When they returned in December we decided to purchase
one generator with 10 MWs of power; they are now making up a tender document. We
expect to borrow a further U.S. $20 million from the World Bank to purchase
three more generators with 10 MWs output each," he added.
"The ADB has
lent us U.S.$18.2 million. With the help of a Japanese company, U.S. $15 million
will be used to repair the distribution system," Vinn said.
Vinn, repairs to the city's wiring system will be labor intensive and costly,
but if the EDC is to benefit from the money it spends on increasing the output
from its new generators, Phnom Penh's ancient and dilapidated wiring system must
Electricity leaving a cabine is often dissipated along a
tenuous line of tangled cables; within 100 metres the voltage may drop
precipitously from its original 220 volts, and at the far reaches of an
overextended network it can be as low as 80 volts.
The EDC views the
cabine retailers as an impediment to repairing the wiring, and intends taking
over the entire system.
At present the cabines are licensed to 160
independent retailers, many of whom have little regard for their contract
obligations. When a meeting of cabine contractors was convened by the EDC on Dec
18 last year, one operator who is responsible for cabines 041 and 042 declined
the invitation. Three days later, in a move to test out a revamped
administrative structure, the EDC revoked the licenses of cabines 331 and 332
which supply electricity to the Chbar Am-peou area in the south of Phnom Penh,
east of the Tonlé Bassac river.
Cheau Tay is a member of a consortium
which held the licenses for 331 and 332. He is a tall, quiet businessman who
runs two hotels in the Olympic market area, and was reluctant to discuss the
EDC's revocation of his license.
"I have rarely visited the cabines
because I have been too busy with my work," Tay said, adding "I don't remember
[last year's meeting with the EDC], it was a long time ago."
at Chbar Ampeou, now under EDC management, are selling power for 300 riels per
kilowatt hour. The EDC is testing out a new pricing scheme to determine an
appropriate ceiling for the sale of electricity. The cabine finance
administrator within the EDC, Me Men Sarun, is pleased with the initial
"The cabine at Chbar Ampeou has made seven million riel in 11
days," said Sarun. "We expect to make 20 million riel, and when the cabine is
repaired this could go as high as 40 million riels per month.
past we received six million riels per month from the retailer," Sarun
Moved from his position at the EDC head office to
administrate a cabine, Sey Tuon, isn't surprised at the amount of repair work
required: "When we took over this cabine we found that the equipment inside was
very old and in need of repair," lamented Tuon. "The wiring has to be replaced
and the meters have to be removed and fixed."
Not all retailers are as
careless in operating their electricity sub-stations. For some attentive
entrepreneurs, the revenues from a higher price charged per kilowatt hour are
used to pay for generators which keep the juice flowing when the power supplied
by the EDC is cut off. Ty Norin acknowledges that he knows of at least four
retailers who have set up their own generators to provide a back-up system for
the city's irregular power supply.
"At the meeting on Dec 18 the cabine
operators disagreed with the government's plans," said Norin. "In my opinion
there are two different cabine operators: One earns his money from this job, he
is not happy. But the other cabine operator, he is all right."
The EDC is
cautiously optimistic that it's plans to take over the system will be
successful. Reports of intimidation of EDC staff by employees of cabine
retailers include being locked inside the sub-stations, having stones thrown at
their cars and one hapless employee who was wounded in a "power" shoot
As an EDC employee who asked not to be named, said: "It was much
easier to give the operation of the cabines to the retailers than it is to take
it back. The EDC intends eventually to take over the operation of all of Phnom
Penh's cabines. "At the moment we are operating two and then we will takeover
others which are losing power and charging high prices," he said, while using
the Khmer expression "mey kjal" (chief of the winds) to describe EDC's