Ever wonder why there are not many mini hydros in Sarawak’s interior?
|A 10kW mini hydro installed in Penampang, Sabah|
If you have a chance to travel in Sarawak’s interior you will find this familiar landscape: long houses with no electricity supply located next to fast streams or even waterfalls. Why is not mini hyro more popular in such locations? These are the 4 major reasons I had come across why mini hydro, despite its merit and low costs, don’t quite make it big in rural Sarawak:
1. It is the government’s responsibility to provide basic amenities like electricity to the people; the society, the NGOs have no business to provide them on charitable basis; if this arguement stands then a lot more things that the people can help themselves will be left to the government, which means, left never done; And the government utility that supply electricity SESCO, seems to take a long time to extend electricity supply to rural areas, citing the business consideration of slow returns in far flung, scattered areas; Yet they make a law that once the SESCO wires reach any village any local electricty generation would be considered illegal! Another point: if mini hydro is installed SESCO cannot charge the users for electricity!
2. The costs of installing mini hydro is very high. A community get their mini hydro installed by an overseas groups at purported USD$100 000.00. They had been citing this figure to others who enquired about mini hydro-effectively killing off any interests from the enquirers. What is not known is if the costs quoted by the overseas group-probably donated by some public fundraising, could be lowered significantly if the implementation involved more local inputs. Worst, there are indeed some commercial groups in towns who may want to make a killing to install mini hydros for these rural folks-thus hardening the impression in some rural folks that the costs of installing mini hydro is far beyond them;
3. There are also some well intended people who are afraid that electricity will erode the lifestyles and culture of the rural communities; There are bound to be effects from electricity on the lifestyles of people once they start using electricity-but the picture of people not using electricity already is mistaken. Many families in rural areas are using electricity the hard way ie generate electricity from diesel or petrol generators-which cost them a fortune over a year, considering that diesel and petrol price in this oil producing state is actually higher than in West Malaysia, especially after the fuel goes through a few hands/timber camps before reaching the interior. Under such conditions electricity is used only for a few hours at night, or only when there are visitors; After some mini hydros are installed in a few locations residents found that they could eliminate the use of tens of diesel generators and save over Rm100 000.00/year in fuel costs! (See example of Long Lawen below)
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