Sarawak, the Dam-ed State

By Leong ChowPong

sarawak dams map

(Source: The Star)

A consideration regarding the inconsistency between the national energy policy and the building of 12 dams that in a mere 10 years will generate 600% more power than current demand.

Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, has a population of approximately 2.3million. In its aims to be a developed state along with the rest of Malaysia by 2020, has over the years embarked on several quests to economics initiatives to transform its agriculture based economy into a more industrialised one, while developing its commercial agriculture in tandem.

Supporting this transformation and its population growth, is a network of power generators located in the major city of the state. Combined, these generators have a capacity of 1300MW, which includes a comfortable reserve margin of 40% from the state?s peak demand of 900MW.

Hydroelectric in the energy mix

Today, Sarawak generates 9% of its power by hydropower. By 2013, this figure poised to increase significantly – through the completion of the controversial Bakun and Murum dams with a combined capacity of 3300MW, or 72% of the state?s energy mix.

With Bakun and Murum connected to the grid, Sarawak will have an alarming reserve margin of 410%. Lack of committed taker for the energy fuels are causing concerns of an imminent energy glut in the state.

Without a concrete plan to address the energy glut, the State energy producer sparked further controversy through a presentation entitled Chinese Power Plants in Malaysia ? Present and Future Development in October 2009 during the China-Asean Power Cooperation and Development Forum in Nanning, China.

In this presentation, Sarawak plans to build 12 additional dams to fulfil future, uncertain industrial demands. The planned dams will be built in Ulu Air, Metjawah, Belaga, Baleh, Belepeh, Lawas, Tutoh, Limbang (feasibility study commenced), Baram (pre-feasibility study commenced), Murum (construction starts 2011) and Linau rivers.

The plan will also include an extension to the existing Batang Ai dam (detailed study commenced). When all these dams are completed, they will push the total power capacity of Sarawak to 7000MW by 2020 – a whopping 600% more than the current demand.

Questions that arise are, why has there not been any public engagement when the feasibility studies for some has commenced? And which economy in the world will grow by 600% in 10 years?

Another reason which concerns environmentalist is the presentation above was not made public, but was accidently published in a Chinese website. Implementing projects of such magnitude and socio-environmental impact without consulting the public does not go down well with the people, especially after the bad experience with Bakun.

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