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Wednesday July 23, 2008

Sarawak to build 12 dams to meet future power needs

PETALING JAYA: Sarawak plans to build 12 hydroelectric dams to meet its future industrialisation needs.

The move has got environmentalists up in arms, questioning the need for the dams and the planned development of the state. They also suggested that Sarawak's national park may be threatened.

However, Deputy Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum said the dams were necessary to meet energy demands.

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They will be located at Ulu Air, Metjawah, Belaga, Baleh, Belepeh, Lawas, Tutoh, Limbang, Baram, Murum and Linau rivers. The plan will also see an extension to the Batang Ai dam.

All these are in addition to the 2,400MW Bakun dam and will push the total generating capacity in the state to 7,000MW by 2020, an increase of more than 600% from the current capacity.

The plans were in a presentation entitled Chinese Power Plants in Malaysia – Present and Future Development in October last year at the China-Asean Power Cooperation and Development Forum in Nanning, China.

The 48-slide presentation has been made available on the Internet.

Chinese companies were expected to design, build and commission the dams, the presentation said.

The Murum Dam project is scheduled to begin this year with a memorandum of understanding already signed between the Sarawak Energy Board and China Three Gorges Project Corporation.

It also said a detailed study on the Batang Ai extension was already under way while a feasibility study had commenced at Limbang and a pre-feasibility study had started at Baram.

Currently, Sarawak’s energy output is 933MW and it does not need any more energy.

However, there are plans to expand the aluminium-smelting industry in the state which will need the planned output. Furthermore, the Bakun dam’s 2,400MW was originally meant for peninsular Malaysia.

According to media reports, the Sarawak Government has already approved the building of an aluminium smelter by local company Press Metal Bhd.

Others which have shown interest includes China’s Luneng Group, Smelter Asia Sdn Bhd, Alcon Inc, Mitsubishi Corp, BHP Billiton Ltd and Australia’s Rio Tinto.

Centre for Environmental Technology and Development Malaysia chairman Gurmit Singh expressed concerns over the plan.

He said the proposal to build the dams and then look for energy-guzzling industries to use the energy was wrong.

He questioned how the building of the dams were related to the national energy policy.

“This is also a typical example of the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality where a country puts its polluting industries in other countries,” he said.

Salang said the 12 dams were necessary as consumption was projected to increase with the development of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy.

He said the dams would only be approved if they passed their environmental impact assessment.

He added that he did not expect the projects to materialise any time soon although the plan was to complete all dams by 2020.

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