Monday, October 29, 2007

Malaysian Bakun Dam development mirrors the hydroelectric development of Patagonia, Chile by European energy conglomerates

Still beneficial? When completed, will the Bakun hydroelectric scheme be able to produce the power expected of it?


BAKUN dam, the controversial hydroelectric project mooted in the 70s, is nearing completion. Temporarily shelved in 1997 at the height of the regional financial crisis, construction is now going full-steam. Its anticipated 2,400megawatt (MW) electricity, once feared to be redundant, is now highly coveted.

In August, the long-anticipated aluminium smelter deal was inked between Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto Aluminium and Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd (CMS). The Sarawak Aluminium Company (Salco) in Similajau, 80km from Bintulu – 60% owned by Rio Tinto and 40% by CMS – is eyeing 900MW from Bakun when the first of its eight turbines start by end of 2009. Salco is gearing up for operation a year later.

(Note: This Aluminum plant is expected to consume 50% of the power generated. )
(Similar happenings in Patagonia, Chile and Argentina:
Xstrata & Transelec Negotiate Cuervo River Dam Project , Aluar Aluminio Argentino SAIC May Spend $3.5 Billion on Patagonia Aluminum Smelter, Dam )



Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) warned that Bakun’s viability has been compromised as its catchment has degraded substantially. Some 320,000ha of forest has been carved out for oil palm and forest plantations, potentially accelerating siltation of the Balui river basin and jeopardising the dam capacity.

Penang-based SAM revealed in June that the state had issued three plantation licences within the catchment between 1999 and 2002, and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports for the projects were approved between 2000 and 2003.

One licensee, Shin Yang Forest Plantation (155,930ha), has begun planting oil palm. The other two, Bahau-Linau Forest Plantation (108,235ha) and Merirai-Balui Forest Plantation (55,860ha), are owned by RH Forest Corporation, a subsidiary of logging giant Rimbunan Hijau, and will establish pulp and wood tree monocultures.

This is clearly in breach of prudent land-use policy within the catchment area, as recommended by the Bakun EIA. We have written to relevant authorities on this matter but have not gotten an answer,” said SAM council member Mohideen Abdul Kader. He added that the government has broken its promise to gazette 1.5million ha of the catchment to ensure the feasibility of the dam.

The Bakun EIA recommended controlled logging to reduce sediment from reaching the reservoir and to secure unpolluted water for the turbines.



A source familiar with the dam development cautioned that with changing rainfall patterns linked to global warming, there might not be enough water during dry seasons to maintain the volume for electricity generation.

*(The problem of dimishing water and galciers in the Andes is becoming a concern throughout South America: When Ice Turns to Water , As glaciers melt, Chile's future uncertain , Chile's Puelo River: Diminishing water volumes impact residents and Endesa dam proponents )



SAM honorary secretary Meenakshi Raman said the EIA has flawed assessments and lacked scientific rigours, and was approved despite the proximity of plantations to the dam. SAM has called on the Finance Ministry, as owner of the dam project, to explain the failure to protect the catchment.

Following its investigation on complaints by two Penan settlements on Shin Yang plantation project, Malaysian Human Rights Commission also recommended that Sarawak reviews the EIA preparation and verification procedure.

(Again the norm: Endesa Strategy & Tactics I – Revisiting the Ralco & Pangue Hydroelectric Projects on the Rio Bio Bio , False Environmental Impact Statements induce Regional Environment Commission to Implement Fines. )


Both Shin Yang Forestry and NREB did not response to media queries. However, in a Bernama report on Oct 9, NREB controller of environmental quality Dr Penguang Manggil dismissed the need for public participation in the EIA process as “the uneducated rural communities could be easily manipulated by certain non-governmental organisations to oppose development plan.”

(Typical: Endesa Strategy & Tactics I – Revisiting the Ralco & Pangue Hydroelectric Projects on the Rio Bio Bio )

Here is the full article.