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Cardamoms in power’s path

A view of the Stung Tatai hydropower dam after its inauguration in 2015.
A view of the Stung Tatai hydropower dam after its inauguration in 2015. Heng Chivoan

Cardamoms in power’s path

The Council of Ministers on Friday gave the green light for construction of a transmission line from Koh Kong province’s Stung Tatai hydropower dam to Phnom Penh, raising concerns from conservationists who fear the impact of cutting through largely untouched forest areas in the Southern Cardamoms.

The new $139 million project will entail the construction of a 230-kilovolt transmission line from the 14-month-old hydropower dam on the Tatai River that will cut across the Southern and Central Cardamom National Parks and connect to the Bek Chan power station in Kandal province, as per documents released on Friday.

“The plan to connect Stung Tatai to the Bek Chan power station is not only to provide electricity but to develop a connection from the southwest electric grid to Phnom Penh’s electric grid and provide stable electricity to Koh Kong, Pursat and Phnom Penh,” the council statement reads.

The Stung Tatai, constructed by the China National Heavy Machinery Corporation for $540 million, was inaugurated in December 2015 by Prime Minister Hun Sen and intended to offset the rising energy needs of Koh Kong and Phnom Penh.

The line is scheduled to take three years to build and would be operated on a 25-year build-operate-transfer agreement, though the statement does not detail the construction firm involved.

Officials from the Ministry of Energy, Electricite du Cambodge and Electricity Authority of Cambodia did not respond or could not be reached yesterday.

Morn Phalla, director of the province’s environment department, did confirm that a local company was conducting an environmental impact assessment and while there was an attempt to preserve the forest, trees would have to be cut down.

“The transmission lines [will be] about 30 meters wide, but they are trying to avoid the areas which have luxury timber. It is not like they are not going to cut the trees. I am sure it will cut the trees,” he said.

Mother Nature’s Alexandro Gonzalez Davidson yesterday said development projects cutting through forested areas in the past always came “hand-in-hand” with systematic logging, poaching and land grabs beyond the original remit.

“One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that building this transmission line through the Areng valley and Cardamom Mountains will cause any outcome other than destruction, period.”

He also rued the fact that there would be an impact on the region’s fledgling eco-tourism sector.

“However, and this is something that government decision-makers urgently need to realise, you simply cannot develop tourism in the Cardamom Mountains and at the same time push for this crazy project to go ahead,” he said.

Suwanna Gauntlett from Wildlife Alliance did not want to comment on the potential impact the project could have without seeing the exact route the transmission line would take, but said it was bound to affect a largely untouched piece of forested land.

“We are worried if this transmission line cuts through the forest, which could also lead to an increase in instances of logging in the area,” she added.

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