Cascading dams to be built in Sarawak to generate electricity

KUCHING: From large hydroelectric dams, Sarawak will next construct cascading dams along rivers to generate electricity.

The construction of cascading dams, which is a new technology to generate electricity, will be carried out by the private sector, according to Sarawak Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg.

He said Sweden was one country which used the cascading dam system to generate electricity, adding that Sarawak had numerous rivers that provided ample opportunities to adopt the new technology for power generation.

Following the amendments to the Sarawak Electricity Ordinance (Cap.50) approved by the state assembly last November, Abang Johari said this has allowed the private sector to undertake power generation projects, such as cascading dams and the installation of solar energy systems, but the distribution of electricity has to be done by state-owned Sarawak Energy Bhd.

The amendments institutionalise the single buyer concept with Sarawak Energy as the single electricity buyer.

All the major hydroelectric dam projects, which involve huge capital outlays, were and are being undertaken by Sarawak Energy, which has built the 944 megawatt (MW) Murum dam and 108MW Batang Ai dam. Sarawak Energy is currently constructing the 1,285MW Baleh dam, which is expected to be operational by 2028.

Sarawak Energy also owns the 2,400MW Bakun dam, which it acquired from the federal government several years ago.

The Bakun, Murum and Baleh dams are all located in the interior of Kapit Division in the upper Rajang Basin in central Sarawak.

Abang Johari said Sarawak would construct three cascading dams – in Sungai Tutoh (Baram district), Sungai Gaat (Kapit) and in the Belaga district as the villagers there have consented in letters to the proposed projects.

In 2015, the late Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem halted the government’s plan to construct a 1,000MW hydroelectric dam in Baram, northern Sarawak because of constant protests and blockades mounted by the villagers and anti-dam protestors as the proposed could displace up to 20,000 villagers.

After dropping the Baram dam project, the government decided to build the Baleh dam.

“The construction of cascading dams is one of the Sarawak government’s new strategies to generate electricity without having to inundate large areas of land.

“The fast flowing water from the cascading dams can also be used to breed freshwater fish and prevent crocodile breeding and preserve the river’s biodiversity,” Abang Johari said recently.

Due to the opening of new roads linking towns in Sarawak, for example from Kapit to Sibu, the construction of bridges across major rivers and the near full completion of Pan Borneo Highway Sarawak, many villagers have switched to faster road travel from traditional river transportation.

Express boats which provided one of the main river transportations between Sibu, Kanowit, Kapit and Belaga for decades, have almost faded away.

With undisturbed water from river transport, Abang Johari said there could have been an increase in crocodile breeding. Already, certain rivers have reported to be infested by crocodiles, causing threat to human lives.

According to Sarawak deputy minister for Energy and Environmental Sustainability Datuk Hazland Abang Hipni, Sarawak had identified several selected rivers where cascading dams can be constructed safely.

He said such dams could also help Sarawak’s venture into green hydrogen production besides electricity generating capacity.

Hazland said Sarawak Energy has been working on the technical aspects and suitable construction methods to be adopted to build cascading dams.

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