Do we really need the Bakun Dam?

Ensuring Socio-economic Justice

Crescent International

Sha'ban 10, 1416 1996-01-01

South-East Asia

by Crescent International

The supporters of the RM15 billion Bakun Dam Hydroelectric Project to be built in Sarawak claim that it will be the answer to all our electricity supply problems.

What they did not tell you is that the electricity from Bakun Dam may cost at least two and half times more than that produced by an independent power producer. That means you have to pay more for your electricity.

You pay for this project in other ways. The money from this so-called ‘privatised’ project may come from public organisations such as the Employees Provident Fund. Part of your mandatory contribution to EPF will be ploughed into a project that is not economically feasible.

And if the project does operate at a lossl it may be borne by subsidies from the government. That means your tax money.

Will it really generate that much electricity?

Theoretically, the Bakun Dam can generate 2,400 Megawatts of electricity. But experience has shown that few major dams, if any at all, are more than 65 per cent efficient. The famous Aswan Dam in Egypt also has a capacity of 2,400 Megawatts - but it only generates half of its theoretical energy output.

This does not include the huge power losses that will occur when the electricity is transmitted across 1,620 km from Sarawak to peninsular Malaysia. Part of this transmission is through a 650 km long undersea cable, the longest in the world. The risks and power losses associated with this new technology are still unknown.

Of course, we will not get any electricity at all if something happens to that cable under the sea. People living in Penang will remember what happened when a mere five kilometre cable was damaged - how long is it going to take to find and repair damage or sabotage on a 650 kilometre undersea cable?

The Dam won’t last forever

Hydroelectric dams don’t last foreversilt from the river will limit the Bakun Dam’s life-span to less than 50 years. The energy source is NOT renewable If the Bakun Dam’s proponents have grossly under-estimated the siltation rate of the Rajang River, we may soon have a RM15 billion mud lake resort.

What is the effect on our environment?

The dam will drown a natural forest about the size of Singapore. And putting a 50-storey high block of concrete across Malaysia’s longest river will certainly have serious implications on the people living downstream of the Rajang.

But the project has implications on your environment as well. Since 1988, Malaysia’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations have helped to ensure that development projects take the environment into consideration. ElAs have ensured that no one can build a power station in your neighbourhood without you having a say - and that the new condo behind your backyard will not make the hill collapse.

But it was suddenly decided that the Bakun Dam project would not come under the Federal Government’s EIA laws. The EIA Reports for the project were made confidential until after they were approved, so that ordinary Malaysians had absolutely no say in the matter. You may now no longer have any recourse to stop projects that are harmful to your community.

Is the Bakun EIA legal?

The Bakun Dam’s EIA process is currently being challenged in the High Court.Three Bakun residents are taking the Bakun Dam developer Ekran Berhad to court for violating the Environmental Quality Act. They contend that the EIA approval without their consultation breaches the rules of natural justice and impinges upon their right to be heard.

How would you feel if someone decided to submerge your house or apartment under 44 billion cubic metres of water? More than 8,000 people living around Bakun will have to move. For centuries they have lived in harmony with nature They now face an uncertain future, beginning new lives in strange, unfamiliar surroundings. Their livelihood, way of life, cultures will change forever.

Courtesy: Concerned NGOs Against the Bakun Dam Project, Malaysia.

Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996

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