WITH the price of crude now reaching nearly US$100 per barrel, the RM6bil Bakun hydroelectric dam project in Sarawak has become a more attractive option as a cheap source of power.
Critics of the project have often pointed out that there is not enough demand for power in the state to justify the cost of the project, which was started in the mid-90s and stalled due to the Asian financial crisis.
It was revived in 2000 by government-owned entity Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd, which awarded a turnkey contract to Sime Engineering Bhd (now part of Synergy Drive Bhd).
Synergy Drive, which is going to be listed at the end of the month, would complete the project by 2009. It has also gotten government approval for a 60% stake in Sarawak Hidro.
Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud It is also looking into the construction of two 700km long undersea transmission cables, said to cost RM9bil, which would link the Bakun hydroelectric plant to the peninsula.
With the undersea cables, which would be operational in 2013 and 2015, the question of excess capacity may not arise since up to 1,600MW would be transmitted, assuming the Bakun plant runs at its full capacity of 2,400MW.
An aluminium smelter may take up a portion of the power generated, although this is still in the planning stage, said analysts.
In August, it was reported that Australian mining group Rio Tinto Plc had agreed to a feasibility study in setting up the first smelter.
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud has also said that a second smelter proposal (the smelter to be built by a Malaysian-Chinese consortium) is still on the table and may become reality after the Bakun plant is up and running.
Meanwhile, it was also reported last year that the federal government had the intention to transmit between 4,000MW and 5,000MW from Sarawak to the peninsula from 2014 onwards from hydroelectric sources.
Energy, Water and Telecommunications Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik was reported as saying that the Rejang river had the capacity to generate up to 20,000MW, with the proposed Murum and Palek hydroelectric plants having a combined capacity of 1,500MW.
He said the potential of hydroelectri- city generation along the river should be explored.