Prime Minister Hun Sen Wednesday lauded the completion of a Chinese hydroelectricity station—a project that was strongly opposed in the National Assembly when it was first proposed two years ago and still concerns some lawmakers today.
The $26 million power station, built by the Chinese Electric Power Technology Import & Export Corporation, or CETIC, can produce 12 megawatts of power, which will be distributed throughout Kompong Speu province and will also boost Phnom Penh’s power supply.
Hun Sen and other officials praised the completion of the power plant, saying it will save people money, create work, and warm Cambodia’s economic ties with China, which is set to become a regional economic powerhouse with its recent World Trade Organization accession.
But other observers still aren’t sure the power station was all it could have been. The project was fiercely debated in the assembly in November 2000, with lawmakers threatening to walk out on the session over the deal the government had made with the Chinese state-owned company.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay recalled Wednesday that at the time, when he was still chairman of the committee that oversees energy issues, parliamentarians from both Funcinpec and his own party had objected to the power plant.
There were questions over the bidding process and the price of electricity, Son Chhay said. Parliamentarians were also concerned that the workmanship and materials on the plant would not reach standards even high enough for the power station to last throughout its 20-year contract.
Now all that debate is behind them. National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh “changed his mind” after the debate “dragged on,” and worked to pass the CETIC proposal.
Son Chhay has since been ousted from his chairman position, but he said Wednesday he remains concerned the power plant was not the best deal the people could have received.
“The price of electricity the Chinese sell to the government is overpriced,” Son Chhay said, adding that he had received complaints that the poles that have been erected across Kompong Speu allow the 22-kilowatt power lines to dangle too close to buildings, houses and trees.
But power officials contacted Wednesday spoke positively of the project. Electricite du Cambodge, the government’s power company, will be able to supply 20,000 to 30,000 more families with power in Phnom Penh’s outlying areas. Prices for electricity in and around the capital would remain the same, between 350 riel to 650 riel per kilowatt-hour, based on the amount of usage.
Ith Priang, secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said the plant would eventually reduce prices in Kompong Speu.
Phnom Penh will get 11 megawatts of power from the station. Kompong Speu will have 1 megawatt added to a new power sub-station. The sub-station has already been built, but power lines to users still must be erected, Hun Sen said.
The premier said Wednesday that the government was embracing as much investment as possible from Chinese companies, including more power stations.
“Cambodia badly needs Chinese investors to come and invest in power plants as much as possible,” Hun Sen said.
Cambodia has few goods to export to the Chinese market, he said, but “the best way” to get Chinese investment is through power stations. “So I hope…CETIC will continue to invest in hydropower” in Cambodia with plans to build power stations Kirirom 3 and Kirirom 4, Hun Sen said, “if they can.”
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