Call off the proposed construction of the Baram Hydroelectric Project

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) would like to urge the Sarawak State Government to heed the call of the communities affected by the Baram Dam, as expressed through the People’s Declaration against the Baram Hydroelectric Project 2014released today.

The proposed 1,200 MW Baram Dam is located between Long Naah and Long Kesseh, 200 km from Miri. It is estimated that 20,000 people from the Kayan, Kenyah and Penan communities from 26 villages would be forcibly displaced by the dam.

Affected communities have begun blockading since October 23, 2013, to halt the movement of heavy machinery intended to be used for the related construction works. A new community facility which functions as a permanent base to carry out daily community surveillance at KM 15 and another blockade camp in Long Lama have both been set up by the blockaders.

According to the Energy Commission, in 2012, the installedgeneration capacity of Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) stood at 1,352MW, while its maximum demand was 1,229 MW, producing an energy reserve margin of 10 per cent. However, the Bakun Dam, categorised as an independent power producer, also generated an additional 1,200 MW in 2012.

On October 11, 2013, SEB reportedly disclosed to the media that power demand from the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) had exceeded the supply capacity of Bakun, stated as 1,800 MW. However, only six out of Bakun’s eight turbines were reported to be in operation in 2013, still generating a total of only 1,200 MW.

Seven power purchase agreements (PPA) had been signed by then, involving the combined supply of 1,920 MW of electricity. Five of the PPAs involved aluminium and manganese smelting plants, while the remaining two were signed with a silicon plant and PERSERO, an Indonesian power utility. Therefore, additional energy fornew SCORE-related PPAs is to be supplied by the Murum Dam, which is expected to generate between 250 MW and 500 MW by the end of this year.

All of the above certainly demonstrate the utter pointlessness of developing another 11 hydroelectric projects in Sarawak, one of which is the Baram Dam.

Firstly, each of Bakun’s eight turbines has a maximum energy generation capacity of 300 MW – its licensed capacity is 2,400 MW. Why then, as recent as October 2013, Bakun was still generating only 1,200 MW of power? If Bakun is unable to operate at its projected capacity, this would be an additional and continuous loss incurred by the project.

Secondly, the public care right to be concerned on the impacts of such massive development of hydroelectric dams and their accompanying energy-intensive industries in Sarawak on the environment, human health and well-being and the country’s finances. Further, if supply is developed exceeding the limits of need, who shall have the upper hand in such a situation – the supplier or the buyer? Energy-intensive and dam industries may gain immensely from SCORE, but can the same be predicted for local communities and the public?

The Tenth Malaysia Plan (2011-2015) reported that in 2009, the electricity coverage of rural Sarawak stood at only 67 per cent. With the proposed supply of power to 76,000 households during the Plan, coverage is expected to jump to 99 per cent by 2015. We are uncertain as to how these figures were arrived at, but we are certain that in rural Baram in mid-2014, numerous indigenous villages are still without electricity.

Last but not least, the opposition of affected communities should be enough to have the Baram Dam permanently cancelled. Experiences from Batang Ai, Bakun and Murum as well as other dam-affected communities around the world have all sufficiently demonstrated the perils of forced relocation on human well-being. Like others before them, the Baram communities’ objections against the acquisition of their ancestral land is firmly rooted in law – native customary rights are proprietary rights, protected under Article 13 of the Federal Constitution, as recognised by our courts.

For all the reasons above, we urge the Sarawak State Government to call off the proposed Baram Dam.

SAM press release, 11 May 2014