Conference Discusses Plans To Light Cambodia

Seventy representatives from the government, aid agencies and businesses gathered Tuesday to tackle a problem that offers no quick solutions: bringing electricity to the Cambodian countryside.

During the three-day conference, funded by the World Bank, participants hope to establish a “rural electrification strategy,” that will bring power to millions of people in rural Cambodia.

Currently, fewer than one in 10 rural Cambodians have access to electricity. Most who do have electricity depend on rigged-up car batteries or private diesel-generator companies to power lights, fans, televisions or karaoke machines.

While affordable and reliable power could improve people’s lives, it won’t come cheap, said Jeffrey Wilson, chairman of Meritec, a New Zealand consulting firm assisting the government with feasibility studies and technical assistance.

Bringing power to 70 percent of Cambodia would cost $1.14 billion and take 30 years. “The costs of providing rural electrification services will be high and many rural consumers will have difficulty in paying for electricity services, despite the long-term benefits that it will bring,” said Min­ister of Industry, Mines and En­ergy Suy Sem. The government must find cost-effective methods to change that, he said.

The government is looking to private investors to help with the cost, Suy Sem said. Including the private sector in the strategy “has the potential of reducing the government’s fiscal burden for electrification, and at the same time” harnesses the capital and entrepreneurial ability of the private sector, he said.

Rural Cambodians who have access to electricity mostly get it from “highly motivated” rural entrepreneurs, who set up low-quality generators and distributors and charge market prices, according to an energy ministry survey. One strategy to increase access involves making these private businesses more secure by providing training and more reliable infrastructure.

The biggest beneficiary of  expanded electric power could be Cambodia’s forests.

A vast majority of Cambodians use wood collected from forests and other material to cook most foods.

“We hope that this rural electrification strategy will help us reduce the use of firewood cut from our forests,” Suy Sem said.






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