By Zhao Yipu
The winding Mekong River flows from north to south into Cambodia. In Stung Treng Province in the northeastern region of the country, a hundreds-of-kilometers-long tributary is known locally as the Sesan River. “Stung Treng Province enjoys an advantageous geographical position, so if Cambodia can develop and utilize such good resources, the province will develop impressively,” declared our driver as our car crossed the Sesan River along Highway No. 7.
The Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project was completed and began operation in Stung Treng Province on December 17, 2018. It is the largest hydropower project in Cambodian history and the longest dam in Asia at a length of 6.5 kilometers. As a key project not only for Belt and Road construction but also for energy infrastructure in Cambodia, the Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project has promoted wide-ranging development in Stung Treng Province and improved the livelihood of locals. Furthermore, it will provide a strong drive for even wider economic development in Cambodia.
Dominant Role in Energy
The Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project dam spans the Sesan River as it flows east to west, creating water surface of 330 square kilometers. The hydropower plant generates electricity from rushing river water while regulating and storing water in the lower reaches of the Sesan River. This magnificent project is regarded as a model for China-Cambodia energy cooperation.
Yunnan Lancang International Energy Co., Ltd. (YLIE), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Huaneng Lancang River Hydropower Inc., Royal Group of Companies of Cambodia (The Royal Group) and Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) jointly established Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co., Ltd. (HPLS 2). YLIE holds 51 percent of shares of HPLS 2, and The Royal Group controls 39 percent of HPLS 2’s stake. The other 10 percent of the shares are held by EVN.
As a major demonstration project, HPLS 2 is funded, developed and operated in a BOT (build-operate-transfer) model.
Cambodia has abundant water resources, but due to its limited development capacity, it faces a nagging problem of insufficient power supply and dependence on energy imports. The full operation of Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project has made it possible for Cambodia to completely reverse this situation.
The total storage capacity of Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project is 2.72 billion cubic meters, with a gross installed capacity of 400,000 kilowatts, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the total installed capacity in Cambodia. It is powered by a combined eight sets of made- in-China units, each with a capacity of 50,000 kilowatts. The annual power generation of the hydropower plant can reach 1.97 billion kilowatt-hours. The total population in Cambodia is 14 million, and the annual social electricity consumption is 8.8 billion kilowatt-hours, so Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project can provide the electricity for about 3 million Cambodians a year.
Considering the massive power generation of the Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project, a senior official of the Ministry of Mines and Energy of Cambodia exclaimed: “The Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project is the primary force of Cambodia’s power generation.” He added that the hydropower plant has driven construction of electric power infrastructure in surrounding areas such as Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham and Kratie, which ensure Cambodia’s independence and security in power supply. The project is tremendously significant in accelerating the development of hydroelectric resources in the Mekong River basin, improving Cambodia’s energy structure, and promoting economic and social development in Cambodia.
At the completion ceremony of the hydropower plant, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen declared that the completion and operation of the hydropower station further promoted the development of Cambodia’s industrial sector, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism industry, making important contributions to Cambodia’s energy security, public living standards and economic development.
In September 2017 at the water storage ceremony of Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project, Hun Sen spoke highly of the Chinese government’s contributions to Cambodia’s energy industry and economic development, thanking the country for creating jobs for the Cambodian people during construction of the power plant. Since the station was completed, it has greatly alleviated power shortages in Cambodia and significantly boosted local living standards while accelerating the economic development of Cambodia. The hydroelectric plant implemented a model of localized management, which has provided more job opportunities for local workers.
A 22-year-old Cambodian man who declined to be named has been working in operations and maintenance for the Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project for nearly six months after graduating from college. He admitted that although he has a solid foundation of professional knowledge, he had a hard time performing well at his job shortly after joining the company due to a lack of experience working at a large hydroelectric plant. This situation changed when he met Gao Rui, a Chinese technician at the hydropower station who became his mentor.
“When I made some small mistakes at work, Gao always patiently explained the error and why I made it,” the employee illustrated. “Gao would personally perform the task over and over again until I completely grasped all the essentials of the task.” He was excited for the opportunity to work on Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project right after graduating from the college. He revealed that his classmates were very envious of him not only because of the high salary but also the rapid enhancement of his professional skills. “I am pretty confident about my future career!” he asserted.
Construction of a hydroelectric station is often accompanied by relocation of local residents, and it was not easy for the local people who had been living by the Sesan River for generations to move. In the process of resettlement, Huaneng Lancang River Hydropower Inc. adhered to the philosophy of “moving, stabilizing and developing” and fully considered the interests of residents. So far, all 3,690 locals of 840 households affected by the water storage of hydropower station have moved into new houses that are spacious, bright, safe and beautiful.
In all three migrant villages, schools, hospitals, temples and police stations are readily available. Infrastructure such as a drainage system, power grids and wells, which the original villages lacked, are also available now. Li Mengsen, deputy general manager of the HPLS 2, noted that before the relocation, many villagers were still worried about the situation. But since it happened, he said, everyone has expressed regret that they didn’t move earlier.
“Today, the new migrant villages of the Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project have become demonstration projects for other migrant projects in Cambodia,” grinned Li Mengsen. “Even Prime Minister Hun Sen said he wanted to spend a night in a new migrant village to experience the happy new life of local migrants.”
In the backyards of villagers’ new houses, different fruit trees such as papaya and banana can be seen. “We each got five hectares of land,” revealed one villager. “Our new houses are much bigger than the previous old places, so we planted papaya and banana trees in our backyards. We both eat these fruits ourselves and sell them to earn extra cash. Check out how big this papaya is!” The hospitable villager immediately plucked the papaya from a tree and gave it to us.
Environmental protection is a very important task in construction of a hydropower station. The Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project has always adhered to the idea that development and protection are equally important and actively invested about US$1.5 million to add a fishway on the right bank of the hydropower plant to protect migratory fish. The Chinese company’s environmental protection efforts have won recognition from the Cambodian people.
When a 65-year-old villager and her husband saw the hydroelectric plant staff arrive, they excitedly greeted and hugged them like old friends. The villager revealed that her younger brother often fishes in the Sesan River, which her family love to eat. But previously, the Sesan River was shallow and rapid, so her brother could only catch a few small fish a day. Today with the dam operating, the broad and gentle reservoir fosters heavy populations of freshwater fish. During fishing season, her brother can catch more than 20 kilograms of fish a day.
A senior official of Stung Treng Province declared that the Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Project not only greatly improved the province’s industrial development and power supply, but also created many jobs for local residents and cultivated a group of Cambodian professionals in engineering construction and hydroelectric technology. “I predict that more and more foreign companies will invest in Stung Treng Province,” remarked the official. “Belt and Road construction has brought exciting development opportunities!”