Built in 2010, the state’s largest hydroelectric dam, now supports energy-intensive heavy industries
FROM the get-go about two decades ago, it was a hot button topic.
And it went through several false starts before it was eventually completed in 2010.
The project to build Bakun dam, Malaysia’s largest hydroelectric dam, had weathered through environmental concerns, protests from activists and local folk, and challenging economic times.
One report in National Geographic described the project as one that changed “landscape and lives”.
It was first approved by the Federal Government in the mid-1980s but shelved when the 1985-86 recession led to a decreased projection of electricity demand.
The project was revived in 1993 but further controversy followed when it was awarded in 1994 to Ekran Bhd that was said to have no experience in dam construction.
Over the years, the project came under pressure from environmentalists and the international media who raised concerns over its environmental and social impact, including the relocation of 10,000 villagers and the destruction of the rainforest in the area.
Work on the dam came to a halt during the Asian financial crisis in 1997, by which time RM1.6bil had reportedly been spent by the government already.
In 2000, the project was revived again through the government-owned Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd, this time without the construction of undersea cables to Peninsular Malaysia as originally planned.
Following the dam’s completion after numerous delays, which led to an escalated cost of RM7.3bil, impoundment began in October 2010.
The flooding process was initiated before 8am on Oct 13 after Sarawak Hidro engineers decided that the weather and river conditions were safe.
According to a report in The Star, it would take about seven months for an area of 69,000ha to be flooded to the top of the 205m dam wall.
As for the reservoir area, it is roughly the size of Singapore.
The Bakun dam was fully commissioned in July 2014 with an installed capacity of 2,400MW.
In 2017, the Sarawak state government reached an agreement to take over the dam from the Federal Government at a cost of RM2.5bil.
The dam was officially handed over in April 2018, giving the state complete control over its energy resources.
Located on the Balui River, a tributary of the Rajang River, the dam is about 37km upstream of Belaga town in central Sarawak. Its downstream regions include Kapit town, Song bazaar and Sibu town on the Rajang River.
With its controversial past behind it, the dam is now the site of Sarawak’s largest power generating plant, supplying electricity to support energy-intensive heavy industries in the state. And the reservoir has become an attraction for fishing, trekking and boating.
Curious to see more features like this? Visit Starchive on our anniversary website to discover more stories through the decades.