Deep in the jungles of Mondol Sima district in southwestern Koh Kong province, about a seven-hour drive from the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh, is the lower Stung Russei Chrum hydropower station, one of the six hydroelectric stations that were constructed by China.
Within the framework of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, the hydroelectric station was built by China Huadian Corp and began operations in January 2015 after nearly five years of construction. It has contributed to Cambodia’s socioeconomic development, ensuring that the country has a secure supply of energy and improving the livelihood of the Cambodian people.
Largest hydroelectric plant so far in Cambodia
With a total installed capacity of 338 MW and a designed annual output of 1.2 billion KWH, the hydroelectric station is the largest of its kind so far in Cambodia.
The Chinese builders had experienced tough challenges and difficulties such as hot and humid weather conditions, fighting mosquito infestations, dealing with leeches, poisonous snakes and bears, threat of unexploded mines and warding off malaria and dengue fever. They also faced loneliness due to their isolation from the outside world, recalled Le Jianhua, general manager and senior engineer of China Huadian Lower Stung Russei Chrum Hydroelectric Project (Cambodia) Company Limited.
“Thanks to the team spirit, it only took about five years to complete the construction of the station, a miracle project hailed by the Cambodian government and foreign counterparts in the hydroelectric sector,” Mr Le said proudly.
“The project, at a cost of 578 million U.S. dollars, has become a model known for its low cost, fast speed, high quality and high standards.”
Under a contract of a 30-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) with the Cambodian government, the station will generate power supply of about 1.2 billion KWH per year.
The electricity is sold to the State-owned Electricity of Cambodia at 7.35 US cents per kilowatt-hour, which is much cheaper than power imported from neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, the general manager said.
The electricity imported from Thailand and Vietnam is about 12 US cents per kilowatt-hour.
The hydroelectric station has also promoted inter-connectivity in the region, Mr Le said.
“Huadian built a concrete road of 45 km leading to the deep jungle before the construction of the hydropower station. The road, dubbed now as a ‘provincial highway’ by locals, has connected the isolated area with the rest of the Koh Kong province and made it easier for the movement of people and goods.”
“The small rubber plantations along the road have been growing larger and larger in the past years as it facilitates the transportation of rubber harvested from the plantations.”
Creative jobs and providing locals with electricity at affordable price
Mr Le said about 2,000 jobs for locals, directly and indirectly, have been created thanks to the hydroelectric station, which includes about 100 Cambodians working in the station.
Heng Hongly is a translator at the hydroelectric station and a power distribution coordinator. Born in the southern province of Takeo, the 22-year-old man has been working at the hydroelectric station for more than one year.
Mr Heng, who can speak Chinese, told Xinhua that he was lucky to be hired by the hydroelectric station.
As his family could not afford to pay his university fees , he, after graduation from high school, came to Phnom Penh in January 2012 to learn Chinese at a temple. “My friends made fun of me when I told them that I was learning Chinese in the capital.”
“My mother runs a small business to support the family and the money she earned did not come easily. I vowed to learn Chinese as hard as I can.”
“I think I was born under a lucky star. I was woken up one morning by a call from my friend who had already been working in the Chinese-constructed hydroelectric station. He informed me that the station was still hunting for a Cambodian who can speak Chinese. I filed my curriculum vitae immediately and got a positive response.”
Mr Heng said his paid salary was enough to help his mother support the family.
With a calm personality, the young man also told Xinhua that his family has benefited a lot from the China-constructed hydroelectric stations, which total six and are all now in operation.
“Before having access to the electricity generated from the Chinese-constructed hydroelectric stations, my family usually spent at least 20 US dollars per month for the electricity imported from Vietnam. This was a big burden for my family. The lights at my home would not be turned on until nightfall. I was allowed to watch TV for only one hour each day.”
“After being connected with the electricity generated from China-constructed hydroelectric stations, my family now only pays five US dollars for electricity per month. There have been no limits in using electricity ever since. We use electricity for illumination and cooking. We can watch TV whenever we want,” Mr Heng added.
China-Constructed Hydroelectric Stations promote energy safty in Cambodia
Electricity shortage is one of the most serious constraints to Cambodia’s efforts to develop its national economy and attract new foreign investments, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank said in a report late in 2014.
The report also said electricity in Cambodia is “not only more expensive than most neighbouring countries, but the supply is also intermittent.”
A power cut in Vietnam caused a blackout of nearly an hour across Cambodia in November 2015. The blackout occurred when the Cambodian people were enjoying the last night of the three-day Water Festival holiday.
In an recent interview with Xinhua, Suy Sem, Cambodian Minister of Mines and Energy, said the six hydroelectric plants built by China had produced a total of 928 MW of electricity, representing 47 percent of the power supply available in Cambodia.
“Currently, Cambodia has a total electrical energy of 1,985.6 MW, supplying to factories, enterprises and houses. To date, 72 percent of the kingdom’s villages have access to electricity.”
“The hydropower plants have generated a lot of advantages such as reducing the import of petroleum for oil-fueled power plants, creating independence in electrical energy for our country, and lowering the price of electricity,” Minister Suy Sem said.
“Previously, we depended mainly on the imports of electricity from our neighboring countries. Now we have our own. In the past, we relied on oil-fueled electricity so the price was very expensive. But since we have hydroelectric plants, the price is appropriate and fixed.”
Hydropower plants also help to reduce the negative impact on the environment, the minister added.