KUCHING: The cascading dams proposed by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad are not suitable for Sarawak due to cost and climate factors.
Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) chief executive officer Datuk Torstein Dale Sjotveit said run-of-river cascading dams were more expensive to build and could not produce the magnitude of reliable power required all year-round.
“The problem with cascading dams is that they have two weaknesses. The cost of power is more than double and they only work when it’s raining. During the dry season these cascading run-of-river systems are actually not producing energy.
“For Sarawak it’s really not a good idea. It’s not responding to the development needs of Sarawak,” he said at SEB’s media appreciation and awards night on Friday.
He added that Sarawak, as a developing state, needed cost-effective and reliable energy that could produce power at competitive prices for industry and low tariffs for consumers.
“Affordable electricity means that the people of Sarawak will continue to enjoy the cheapest tariff in the country,” he said.
Sjotveit was responding to Dr Mahathir’s suggestion that Sarawak could build smaller cascading dams instead of mega dams to avoid flooding large areas of forest land.
In his keynote address at the International Energy Week hosted by the state government last week, Dr Mahathir had said that smaller dams with high walls on both sides of the river could help save the forest and reduce the cutting down of trees.
Sjotveit also said hydropower dams played an important role in flood mitigation through management of the water reservoir.
He said the Bakun and Murum dams helped to mitigate the impact of floods downstream in the last few weeks, when the state experienced heavy rain and flooding.
“Just two weeks ago, we were holding back 2,800 cu m of water per second over a whole week. It’s an enormous amount of water that if we didn’t hold it back, it would have been flooding Sibu, Kapit and the whole area downstream,” he said.
He acknowledged the development of hydropower dams involved displacing communities, which was not an easy task.
“We have to balance this situation to make sure that the social effect is not too harsh and that we spend time discussing this with the affected communities.
“But at the same time, through well-managed resettlement, communities with limited or difficult access to infrastructure and utilities are brought nearer to education, economic opportunities, health services, water supply, road systems and other necessities.”
Sjotveit later presented prizes to the winners of the Hydropower Development and Social Progress Awards organised by SEB with the Kuching Division Journalists Association and Commonwealth Journalists Association (Sarawak Branch).
The awards, which were divided into print, broadcast and photography categories, aimed to encourage research and writing on hydropower and the social progress it can bring.