The Council of Ministers on Friday approved plans for two Chinese firms to construct hydropower dams in Koh Kong province that will provide a total of 584 megawatts of electricity, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Sunday.
China National Heavy Machinery Corporation plans to build a $540 million dam on Stung Tatay river capable of generating 246 megawatts of electricity when it is completed in 2014, he said.
Michelle Corporation plans to complete a $495.7 million dam on Stung Russey Chrum river that will produce 338 megawatts of electricity, Phay Siphan said.
“The citizens’ income is increasing, which increases the demand for electricity,” he said.
Both companies have signed 30-year buy-operate-transfer agreements and will give 20 percent of profits to the government and sell electricity for $.07 per kilowatt-hour.
Only 20 percent of Cambodians have access to reliable electricity, mainly in urban areas, according to a January report by the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia and International Rivers.
But the report also warned that “poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage” natural resources. The Stung Russey Chrum dam could have serious effects on local fisheries and downstream communities, while it appears the Stung Tatay dam may flood areas of the Central Cardamom protected forest, the report stated.
Phay Siphan said the government will clear 1,600 hectares of forest that would be flooded by the Stung Tatay project, but he added that he was uncertain whether the flooding would affect the Central Cardamom Protected Forest.
CNHM will compensate 193 families in the Thma Baing district who will lose their land and employment, he said.
The Stung Russey Chrum project will not harm local fishing, Phay Siphan added, because the government will raise fish in the Stung Russey Chrum lake upstream.
Sam Chanthy, environmental awareness and protection project manager of NGO Forum on Cambodia who co-authored the International Rivers report, said it is difficult to assess the potential effect of the recently approved dams because there is a lack of information available to the public.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy and The Chinese Embassy have declined to release information on the investment or the environmental impact assessments, he said.
Qian Hai, third secretary of the Chinese Embassy, said Sunday that the projects are legal and that NGOs interested in learning about the projects should contact the government.
“The Cambodia government has all the details about the project,” he said.