NGOs Against Plans For 12 Hydropower Dams in Interior Sarawak

Malaysian NGO Coalition
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, July 23: Environmentalists are renewing calls for the Malaysian government to formulate a comprehensive energy policy, following the discovery of plans to build a network of power plants across interior Sarawak.

Titled ‘Chinese Power Plants in Malaysia - Present and Future Development', the confidential document made by Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), which was accidentally published on a Chinese website details power projects planned for construction in Sarawak, between now and 2020.

It highlights locations for two coal fired power plants, a dozen hydropower dams and several combined cycle projects across Sarawak's rainforest, touted to be the 2nd oldest in the world.

The dams could possibly submerge several Penan, Kelabit and Kenyah villages, potentially displacing at least a thousand people. One of the proposed dams, Tutoh dam, raises questions on whether Mulu National Park will be able to maintain the UNESCO World Heritage Site status as the dam may submerge parts of the national park.

Commenting on the plans, spokesperson and the Chairman of the Centre for the Environment, Technology & Development, Malaysia (CETDEM) Gurmit Singh said that the plans reflect shortsightedness and gaps in the nation's energy and environment policies.

"It illustrates an energy planning strategy that is supply driven and inconsistent with the principles of sustainable development.

"At the same time, it fails to adequately factor in impending environmental threats such climate change, which is projected to cause water scarcity and ecosystem disruptions," said Gurmit, adding that it made little sense to build 12 additional dams since Bakun dam has the capacity to generate three times the amount of energy that is currently consumed by Sarawakians.

"We simply cannot mortgage our children and our grandchildren's future for the sake of short-term gains," Gurmit said.

According to Gurmit, the construction of large hydropower dams often create irreversible environmental damage to flora and fauna and can potentially hurt the survival of the indigenous communities who depend on Sarawak's rivers and forests to survive.

Once a large dam is built, the hydrology of the rivers - from the way the currents flow to the pressure on the river banks - becomes almost impossible to predict, posing danger to those who rely on these waterways to get to their schools, work and the market," said Gurmit.

He also highlighted that because of climate change, large hydroelectric dams are neither assured of perpetual water supply nor against the undermining of the integrity of water catchments, further raising the question of the viability of such projects.

"All this signals the pressing need for a comprehensive energy policy that spotlights on how to plug wastages and derive efficiencies from existing energy infrastructures, which will put us on the roadmap toward long-term energy security, without compromising environmental sustainability," said Gurmit.

Supporting the call for a comprehensive energy and environment policy are environmental and conservation NGOs as well as advocates for the rights of indigenous communities Borneo Resources Institute (BRIMAS), TrEES (Treat Every Environment Special), Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and Malaysian Nature Society (MNS).

The Bakun dam, which is under construction, covers an area bigger than Singapore and has the potential to generate 2400MW.

According to environmentalist and advocates of renewable energy, large dams have been scientifically proven to produce massive environmental and extensive ecological destruction as rotting vegetation emits amounts of carbon dioxide and methane that are higher than the equivalent of a fossil fuel energy generation.

The ‘Chinese Power Plants in Malaysia - Present and Future Development', which can be viewed at, highlights the construction of twelve dams, ranging from 54MW to 1000MW, to produce another 4600MW on top of Bakun's 2400MW in the East-Malaysian province, totaling 7000MW in the eastern province.

Sarawak Energy (SEB) is the sole electricity supplier in Sarawak, equivalent to Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) in Peninsular Malaysia. The company is 65% owned by the State Finance Secretary, Sarawak.