Do Sarawak really need large dams? asked ex-Energy Minister

Anti-Baram dam protest held at PELITA Miri.
Anti-Baram dam protest held at PELITA Miri.

A former minister from Sarawak has questioned the state government’s plan to build a series of large hydroelectric dams in its quest to be a developed and industrialised state by 2030.

“Do we really need large dams? Why can’t we design smaller ones that are not damaging to the environment,” asked former energy, green technology and water minister, Tan Sri Peter Chin, in his closing address at the Sarawak Business Summit in Kuching, yesterday.

Sarawak plans to build 12 dams – nine large and three small ones – to generate cheap electricity for power-intensive industries in its industrial belt, the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score).

Peter Chin Fah Kui
Peter Chin Fah Kui

But Chin said mega dams would create mega reservoirs that would affect a larger number of people while smaller dams would have the opposite result.

Chin said a 2009 study by his former ministry showed that the worldwide trend was to build smaller dams.

“A small hydroelectric dam, compared to all other forms of power generation, is still cheap.”

The 100Mw Batang Ai dam, the state’s first hydroelectric dam completed in 1985, was a size the state’s dam planners should be considering. It displaced 3,000 people from 26 longhouses.

Chin said the state needed to give more consideration to long-term environmental sustainability.

“I am not against the building of hydroelectric dams. I am not saying we should not build (another) Bakun anymore, or that we should not build the Baram dam,” he said, referring to the controversial first mega dam built in the state and the one the state has planned to built between the Kenyah settlements of Long Naha’a and Long Keseh in Ulu Baram.

“My concern is how do we format the Baram dam in such a way that it would not become a liability to us in the future,” said Chin, who was in the cabinet from April 2009 until he was defeated in last year’s general election.

Work on the 1,180Mw Baram Dam has yet to start due to stiff opposition from the thousands of natives who could be displaced, but the government has targeted its completion in 2020.

Up to 20,000 people from 32 longhouses would be displaced if the dam is built.

“I think our planners and decision makers should look into this question of environmental sustainability. Why go for short term gain (but) long term damage?

“The amount of land you are inundating is an important thing dam planners and decision makers have to really look at.

“What I am saying is we should really look at how much land we should allocate to be inundated. It is not generating power per se.” TMI