Cambodia chooses coal in rush for power

The US$1.34 billion Botum Sakor coal plant will have a generating capacity of 700 megawatts (MW) and be built by the Cambodian Royal Group and Sinosteel Equipment and Engineering Company, a subsidiary of China’s state-owned Sinosteel Corporation.

Botum Sakor is one of two coal plants Cambodia’s government has approved this year in response to severe power outages in 2019. The country currently has the second-lowest electrification rate in Southeast Asia, according to the International Energy Agency. However, critics say the government’s choice of coal bucks the growing trend towards renewables in the region.

Cambodia already has three operational thermal power plants, all in Preah Sihanouk province, with generating capacity of 640 MW. Two more are under construction there, adding an additional 800 MW. The government has greenlighted another new plant in Oddar Meanchey province, as well as Botum Sakor.

The government decided to expand power supply fast after a spate of blackouts in 2019, and opted for thermal power.

Another reason for Cambodia’s move toward coal was the government’s decision in March to postpone the development of any hydropower dams on the Mekong River for a decade in response to stresses on the river’s flow as well as domestic and international pressure.

The 10-year halt on such projects has been lauded and is good for the Mekong River, but it has left the Cambodian government in a quandary.

“People talk a lot about Cambodia making larger investments in thermal power plants versus renewable energy, but this must be considered from an economic viewpoint, for which the priority is reliable power,” said Bradley Abbott, energy lead at the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Cambodia.

Tagged with: