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Life in the dark amid broken power promises

For five years communities in Cambodia’s Svay Ring province have waited for electricity, but all they’ve received are transmission lines.

Solar Panals Cambodia
Villagers are relying on solar power because authorities have failed to connect them to the grid. KT/May Titthara

By May Titthara

Svay Rieng, Cambodia, August 25, 2017

Khmer Times

In Svay Rieng province’s Bati commune, electricity poles and wires sprung up five years ago in Thnanh village but power still has not run through them, leaving villagers reliant upon batteries and most recently, solar panels.

The village is just six kilometres from the major provincial city of Bavet, a town known for its gaudy casinos, cross-border trade – and imported electricity from Vietnam.

Knowing this, Thnanh villagers wonder why they are not connected. Running out of patience, those who can afford it have begun to ditch their batteries and turn to solar panels to power their homes.

Lach Sopheap, 30, said the burden of charging his batteries finally forced him to turn to solar panels to light his family’s home two years ago.

“My panels can power a small TV, some fans and lamps, but not machinery like water pumps,” he said.

“I need the state to deliver electricity for that, and have been waiting a long time.”

“I will use both solar and state power when the state electricity comes to my village,” he added. “That way, in case the state electricity cuts off, I can still use my solar power.”

Svay Rieng province currently requires 40MW a day due to the province’s numerous factories. Half of the province’s power supply comes from Vietnam, and it is hoped that the completion of a solar farm will make the province self-sufficient in the future.

A new $12.5 million solar farm being built by Singaporean firm Sunseap International in Bavet city is expected to be finished soon and may help alleviate villagers’ hardships.

But Thnanh villagers look at the installed poles and see only broken promises.

In Boy, 65, said some families like his who cannot afford solar panels still rely upon batteries for electricity.

“The local community has called on the authorities to supply electricity for a long time,” he said.

“But we never get any response. I don’t know what else to say. I just hope one day I can have electricity in my home, at least for my children when they are older.”

Bavet governor Seng Sila said yesterday that electricity would be delivered to the village by 2018, but declined to say why it had taken so long to run power through the lines installed five years ago.

“I already asked the EDC, they said that they are working on their plan, so in 2018, that village will see state electricity for use,” he said.

According to Victor Jona, director-general of energy at the Ministry of Energy, about 78 percent of 14,168 villages nationwide have electricity provided by the state.

“We believe that by 2020 we can deliver electricity to all villages,” Mr Jona said. “And, by the end of this year, we will probably reach 80 percent.”

The main sources of energy for Cambodia are hydro power plants and charcoal factories, along with imported electricity from Thailand and Vietnam.

In 2016, local energy production accounted for about 75 percent of the country’s total supply. Energy imports from Thailand fell by 41 percent in 2015, according to EDC, while imports from Vietnam fell five percent.

Ith Prang, secretary of state at the Energy Ministry, said Cambodia has 25 sub-stations covering 14 cities and provinces and would connect another nine provinces in 2018, and Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces by early 2020.

“By 2020, all Cambodian people in the country will have access to electricity,” he said. Back in Thnanh village, news of electricity being delivered by 2018 was met with scepticism.

Men Sao, 60, said he will likely continue to be reliant upon batteries and candles to light his way at night until he dies.

“I have no money to buy solar power, so I have to wait for the state electricity, but it has been about five years already and I am still waiting,” he said.

Mr Sopheap, who switched to solar power two years ago, echoed his neighbour’s concern.

“We have been waiting about five years already,” he said.

“I hope the electricity comes, because we really need it, but I cannot say for sure that it will.”


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