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04 JUNE 2007[Technology in Society] | 421-609

THE BAKUN HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT: THE DAMNED D analysis on the aspired Bakun This essay is intended to provide a critical AM
Aim Dam construction in Malaysia. The significance of the technology and its impact on the indigenous society of Sarawak, and its environment is the main content of the analysis. The essay will attempt to address the following elements: Technological need of rural society and the people of Malaysia, in particular of Sarawak Energy requirement vis--vis state development Chronological events of the dam construction and the political scenarios

[Vigneswaran KUMARAN] | 277492


Coordinator: Dr. Lu Aye Civil and Environmental Department

THE BAKUN

HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT IN

MALAYSIA: THE DAMNED DAM

The societal interaction, environmental needs and development requirement Public participation and involvement in socio-environmental decision making Other elements of threat or barriers in societal need for alternative technologies in favour of the dam construction

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THE BAKUN

HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT IN

MALAYSIA: THE DAMNED DAM

Contents

Aim 3 1.0 7 Conclusion 20 Introduction

References and Notes


21

Figures
Figure 1 Industrial Fuel Intensity in Selected ASEAN Countries 1980-2000 13

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MALAYSIA: THE DAMNED DAM

1.0 INTRODUCTION
The right to prosper in life beyond survivalism could be an ideal aim of every human being and every nation on earth. Development in a society at a primary level, should address the basic needs of the members of the society and it should be at the willingness of the society to embrace the development, but not as an imposition due to external forces. The people of Sarawak, a sovereign state of Malaysia is provided with the option of such development, and it is important that the basis of such provision is critically reviewed and the implications understood in its whole. Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia being situated on the East Malaysia, with massive tropical rainforest (though dwindling rapidly), and endowed with large petroleum reserves [1]. It is one of the worlds largest exporters of tropical hardwood timber [2], and the deforestation had depleted almost 90 % of the forested area. The people of Sarawak, in particular the indigenous and locals along the Balui River of Sarawak have been provided with the opportunity to develop to the standards considered in par with other Malaysians. The opportunity came in the form of construction of a dam which would consume a catchment area twenty times the size of Singapore and a reservoir that would submerge Singapore in entirety [3]. This opportunity will displace the ten thousand indigenous from their ancestral native land, their association with the environment, and provide alternate source of income from the project. Their forced relocation [4: www.rengah.c20.org] had undermined fundamental human rights in its basic form, with threats of reduction in compensation, forced purchase of homes, and non-transparent legal acquisition of native land. The conception of Bakun Hydroelectric Project, in its feotal stage could be dated to the early 1960s, where the initial survey of hydroelectric potential
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THE BAKUN

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MALAYSIA: THE DAMNED DAM

in Sarawak was initiated under the Colombo Plan aid programme. The survey was carried out by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority of Australia. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the detailed examination of the Bakun site and preparation of development proposals. The feasibility study was carried out by German-Swiss consultants and had involved an expenditure of US$ 15 million (1985). The construction of the 204m height dam and the power generation facility (inclusive of eight power tunnels of 8.5m diameter) was estimated to extend over a period of 12.5 years. In 1986, although the nation was affected by recession, the government announced the decision of proceeding with the Bakun project. The funds required for the project was thought to be sourced from World Bank or Asian Development Bank (ADB). The general public and the natives were infuriated by this uncouth action of the elected government. However, in June 1990, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia (Tun Dato Seri (Dr.) Mahathir) announced the cancellation of the project during an international conference on conservation of tropical biodiversity, purportedly demonstrating Malaysias commitment to conservation. However, this decision was more at the economic interest of the country, rather than earnest environmental concern, which had been made obvious by the decrease in electricity demand projection as an outcome of recession post 1985. On September 9, 1993, the government of Malaysia had decided to revive the project of building the dam. The reason could have been due to incessant lobbyist and strong political push from the state government, as well in the rise of electricity demand. In January 1994, the project was awarded to the Sarawak timber tycoon, Tan Sri Ting Phek Khiing under Ekran Berhad, without formal protocol and bureaucracy associated with most government linked project. This was a business entity without prior experience in dam construction or power sector. In April 1995, Ekran (and the consortium formed) completed the EIA for the project, however, the EIA was not released for public scrutiny.
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The project with a capacity of 2400 MW is to cost US$ 2.5 billion and expected to be completed by 2003. Additionally, a 670 km HVDC power transmission cable was to be laid on the seabed to supply power from Sarawak to the West Malaysia. Ironically, Ekran announced that the reports have been approved by Department of Environment (DOE), which at the time, the reports have not been subjected to public scrutiny. This approval reflected mismanagement at government level, whereby the jurisdiction of EIA at federal level has been transferred to Sarawak state government by the Minister of Science, Energy and Technology and backdated to September 1, 2004. The state level EIA does not require public feedback for the EIA approval. The EIA had been divided into four parts, defying the purpose of EIA, and were to be approved in stages, while preliminary works at site such as land clearing to proceed in order to meet the project milestones. The local society and public were not provided the opportunity to voice their concerns, and humiliatingly the final approved EIA was provided to the public four months later. This act by the government reflects arrogance and complete disregard of public welfare, and EIA once again becomes a piece of ineffective document, rather than a dynamic process for socio-environment assessment. This preferential act also mirrors a socially corrupted political institution, maximizing private profit against social welfare. The EIA was later reviewed by a team of experts brought together by the International Rivers Network (IRN) at the request of local society. The evaluation exposed some fallacies and inadequacies in the projects approved EIA, in which the project was reputed to supply the nation with cheap, clean and reliable electricity. The team also concluded that the EIAs usefulness is severely limited by basic methodological flaws. The approved EIA had also claimed that the dam would reduce loss of forests, whereas the site clearance would leave hectares of land deforested. Apart from that, the EIA had not considered the no-project alternative, long-term impact, and effect of water quality on fisheries. The IRN effectively summed
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the EIA as not meeting the accepted international standards for environmental assessments. In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, the project was halted. The government had already made US$ 1.22 billion payment to the consortium on various completed works. The resuscitation of the project for the third time took place in May 2000, via a government owned company, Sarawak Hidro. However, numerous changes had taken place within the past five years, in terms of the overall project development. In November 2007, a new merger will allow Synergy Drive with a market capitalization of US$ 8 billion to takeover the Bakun project, and the submarine HVDC cable to West Malaysia to be revived. The projected time of completion is February 2008. Thus the actual cost of project estimated at US$ 2.5 billion in 1995 is now estimated to have overrun to US$ 4 billion, if it is completed at the aforementioned date. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the World Commission on Dams (WDC) states that the construction overrun cost for large dams are typically about 56 %, which could lead to a larger sum. The social benefit cost analysis was not adequately undertaken by the Malaysian government. Nonetheless an independent study by Hope and Morimoto (Cambridge) shows that the projects mean probability of Net Present Value (NPV) is negative throughout the project life, assuming the facilitys life of 100 years. The 95th percentile indicates the project to have positive NPV only from the tenth to the thirtieth year, and subsequently lose its economic value. This study and other similar propositions show that the Bakun was not a project to maximize social economic welfare, but intended by a few in power for the benefit of the elite few. The energy requirement in West Malaysia and Sarawak as indicated in the Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010 has a reserve margin of 25.4% and 23.5%, respectively. The reserve margin for Sarawak includes the power generation from Bakun, however this contribution is only at 400MW against a design capacity of 2400MW. The capacity being underutilised is an
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economic loss, and even if the Bakun operates at 76% (as indicated in the Knowledge Base of WCD) by 2008, the reserve margin would exceed by 60%. This extra margin is non-consumable power, which ultimately reflects in the financial sheet of the project a huge hole, and may eventually be covered with tax-payers money, as practiced in other government linked operations. Arguably, the intention of the state and federal government in carrying out such massive project with tax-payers money (the US$ 2.2 billion in payment done) and blatant disregard of public concern has little to do with national development. As shown by the number of attempts to revive the damned project, the societal need has least importance in this short-term economic gain by the elite few. Alternative sources of power generation have not been considered in replacement of this project. To err is human, but to repeatedly err is ignorance, and the leaders of this government have little thought or inclination to retract their failing acts. A massive project such as Bakun is becoming obsolete in developed countries such as Canada, Europe and France, however developing countries such as Malaysia is willing to buy this obsolete yet highly expensive technology to become an industrialised nation. A project which extends over more than 12 years, had largely been exposed to severe economical constraints and mismanagement should be reviewed conscientiously by good political governance. Sarawak has large reserves of natural gas, and clean combined heat and power technology, and to use latest state-of-the-art operations would have less capital requirement and environmental impact, compared to submerging and deforesting a land that could accommodate the whole nation of Singapore in its scarcity for land. The Bakun project had taken away the indigenous peoples right by creating legislative rights against their Native Customary Rights (NCR). The society had been displaced 50km from their native land, with least compensation and against their preference. Development against the need of the society is exploitation of the society for private profits, and such
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MALAYSIA: THE DAMNED DAM

development leads to social degradation more rapidly than if the society had been left without development. The displaced Kenyah, Kayan, Ukit, Penan and Kajang ethnics have been deprived of their ancestral land using the legislative interpretation by the state government for the interest of a few in power. Until today, some of these people have not even received their compensation, nor have their plights been consciously addressed. In the name of development, these people are forced to strip their cultural inheritance, their way of life and finally their identity as the indigenous who had been the rightful owners of the Bakun. In the name of development, a society with rich traditional values, worth more than any economic return is asked to sacrifice for the whole nation that lives in cities and homes that knows not how much of fauna and flora of thousands of years evolution is destroyed for the need of a few. It is disheartening that the plights of the displaced people are yet to be attended. The following song (a parap offering in song and rice wine) from a Kenyah indigenous aged women highlights the ill fated societys plight: We are happy you came among us. For soon, we worry, we may drown Because of Bakun. We are mourning, due to our problems. Share your ideas with us, so we can have courage. Please help us, please tell your Friends, and others in the world outside, That we have our problems So that you and they can help us One way or the other. Please remember us and our plight Wherever you go, wherever you may be. Technology is worth less than its economic value in a fading society, when the development is imposed on the society, against their will and interest. The people of Balui River will be forgotten as soon as the damned Bakun Hydroelectric generates power, but a technology that displaces a culturally rich society, and diversified fauna and flora will leave a scar that will remain in Malaysian history in pursuit for the title of developed nation.
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REFERENCES
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. MIEEIP, MEC Achieving Industry Energy Efficiency in Malaysia, UNDP The Ninth Malaysia Plan (RMK9), Economic Planning Unit, Malaysia The Star Online, Friday, March 31, 2006 World Energy and Economic Outlook, International Energy Outlook 2006, Energy Information Administration, USA A. Rahman Mohamed, K.T. Lee / Energy Policy 34 (2006) 23882397

7. Energy, The Eighth Malaysia Plan (RMK8), Economic Planning Unit, Malaysia 8. 9. Concept Paper on EE Business Opportunity in Malaysia, R. Ponnudorai, PTM, Malaysia Potential of Gas Fired CHP in the Manufacturing Sector in Malaysia, Malaysian-Danish Environmental Cooperation Programme, Ir. Phang Ah Chee, CHP Energy Services, Malaysia

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