Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen praised Laos for selling cheap power to his country on Tuesday, even though residents of Cambodia’s Stung Treng province pay double what their neighbors across the border pay for electricity.
“I want to extend my thanks to the Laotian government for selling electricity at a cheap price to Cambodia, mostly for consumption in Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces,” Hun Sen said in speech marking the opening of a new Cambodia-Lao international border checkpoint.
While Hun Sen failed to detail the amount and cost of the Lao-produced electricity, or whether Cambodia will continue to buy electricity once the Lower Sesan 2 dam located in Stung Treng province is completed, residents complained that the cost of power is still too high.
Stung Treng residents pay about 950 riels (U.S. $0.24) per kilowatt-hour, which is about twice the cost of electricity across the border in Laos.
“I want the price of electricity to come down because now the price is 950 riels,” Tem Sreymom, a resident in the town of Stung Treng, told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“I want the cost to be as cheap as it is in Laos,” she said. “For my house, I spent around 70,000 to 80,000 riels-a-month (U.S. $ 17.43 to U.S. $19.77).”
Since 2009, the Cambodian government has purchased five to seven megawatts of electricity annually from Laos for consumption in Stung Treng province.
The electricity is generated from the Houay Ho dam in the Sekong River basin in Laos, where the government plans to make the country the “battery for Southeast Asia.”
Laos and many other Asian countries are on a dam-building spree as they try to harness the power of the Mekong and other rivers. While the Lao government sees power generation as a way to bootstrap the country’s economy, the projects are still controversial for their environmental impact and their financial arrangements.
According to International Rivers, an environmental advocacy group, the current Lao hydropower development plan includes 72 new large dams, 12 of which are under construction and nearly 25 in advanced planning stages.
The Lower Sesan 2 dam is expected to begin generating electricity in 2017. It is seen as a critical piece of Cambodia’s national power grid, and has been touted as a way to reduce the cost of electricity.
The dam, located in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district, is expected to generate up to 400 megawatts of electricity and is the biggest hydropower plant in Cambodia.
Cambodian authorities have promised that electricity prices will drop dramatically once the dam comes on line.
Reported by Chanthy Men for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.