Growing Demand for Electricity Causes More Frequent Blackouts

Blackouts in Phnom Penh are be­coming more frequent because of the country’s growing appetite for elec­tricity, an appetite that is predicted to increase at least 10 percent annually, though some estimates put it above 20 percent, officials said this week.

Already, Phnom Penh desperately needs an extra 30 to 50 mega­watts, on top of the 170 megawatts available, just to meet current de­mand, Electricite du Cambodge Dir­ector-General Tan Kim Vin said Wednesday, adding that rolling blackouts will continue until the capital gets those extra megawatts.

“Blackouts in Phnom Penh are worse than last year,” Tan Kim Vin said by telephone. “We black out some of the outskirts to fill in the lack of energy [in central Phnom Penh].”

Blackouts will continue to occur for two to three hours every day on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, said two EdC officials, who both spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to one of the officials, the power shortage is exacerbated by increasing use of household elec­trical appliances and the rising cost of oil, which has spurred ho­tels and factories to shut off their pri­vate generators and use cheaper pub­lic electricity that has remained stable in price over the past year because of a $24 million government subsidy.

Intensifying the situation right now, he said, is that hydropower dams produce less electricity when rivers slow in the dry season. From January to May, Kompong Speu province’s Kiri­rom Hydropower plant produces just 3 to 4 mega­watts of power, down from 11.5 mega­watts during the rest of the year, according to the EdC.

All together, it means Cambod­ians soon can expect more blackouts, the EdC official said.

EdC’s Tan Kim Vin suggested that businesses follow Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent advice if they want to reduce their electricity bills, which included setting air conditioner units to no lower than 25 degrees Celsius, switching off computer equipment not in use and making better use of natural light.

The World Bank’s Infrastruc­ture Operations Officer Bun Veasna said the Ministry of In­dustry, Mines and Energy is looking to decrease blackouts by building new power plants and also by connecting to regional power transmission lines.

Hydropower plant proposals in­clude a 100-megawatt hydro­power dam across the Kamchay River in Kampot province and a 180-megawatt hydropower dam across the Stung Russei Chrum River in Koh Kong province, both to be completed by end of 2008, Bun Veasna said.

Several coal-fired power plants have been proposed in Sihanouk­ville as well, Bun Veasna wrote in an e-mail, adding that the World Bank is also encouraging Cam­bod­ia to connect to regional power plants.

The World Bank, he said, has given a $40 million loan to the Rural Electrification and Trans­mission Project, which is extending power lines from Phnom Penh to Kom­pong Speu and Takeo provinces. A further $18.5 million grant has been given to Cambodia to join the Great­er Mekong Sub-Regional Power Trade Project and connect power lines from Vietnam to Kompong Cham province and power lines from Laos to Stung Treng province.

Two additional generators, one coal-powered and one diesel-powered, should be ready to supply an additional 20 megawatts to Phnom Penh sometime in April, according to the EdC, though they won’t be enough to end blackouts in the capital.

Bun Veasna said reduced energy consumption and increased energy availability is essential to the country’s overall growth.

“Cutting costs is vital,” he said.

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