In 2003, a national sector review for hydropower was prepared by the Ministry for Industry, Mines and Energy (now Ministry of Mines and Energy) and the Cambodian National Mekong Committee (CNMC). This report identified 60 possible sites for hydropower development in Cambodia and estimated the country’s total generation potential at 10,000MW, of which 50% is on the mainstream Mekong, 40% on its tributaries and 10% in the southwest outside the Mekong basin.1
Due to the addition of Stung Tatai and Lower Stung Russei Chrum hydropower dams in 2014, the electricity generated by hydropower dams has seen a huge increase of 82%. From 2013 to 2014, it increased from 1,015.54 million kWh to 1,851.60 million kWh.2
Operating dams include:3
- Kirirom I (12MW) in Kampong Speu.
- Kamchay (193MW) in Kampot, which started operating in 2011.
- Kirirom III (18MW), which started operating in 2013.
- Stung Atai (120MW) in Pursat, which started operating in 2013.
- Lower Russei Chrum (338MW) in Koh Kong, which started operating in 2014.
- Stung Tatai (246MW) in Koh Kong, which began power production in 2014.
These six are connected to the national grid. There is also a hydro plant in Ratanakiri and another in Mondulkiri, connected to the Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri power systems of EDC.4
The Lower Sesan 2 is being developed by China Huaneng Group and Cambodia’s Royal Group with a total cost of US$ 977 million, and with an installed capacity of 400MW and US$ 29.59 million as revenue annually. The construction of the hydropower dam is expected to be completed in 2017.5
In early 2016 the Ministry of Mines and Energy set up a committee chaired by Energy Minister Suy Sem to resolve compensation and resettlement issues for 1,000 families displaced by the dam. Many affected families rejected the government’s compensation package of an 80 m2 house and 5 hectares of plantation land apiece, regardless of their old property values.6
A number of other projects in the northeast are currently being studied for feasibility, including the Lower Sesan 3, Lower Sesan 1/5, Lower Srepok 3 & 4, and Prek Liang 1 & 2. In the southeast, the Stung Cheay Areng has also been studied.7 However, the proposals for a dam in the Areng valley were strongly opposed by environmentalists and ethnic minorities in the area. The proposal has apparently been shelved, with Prime Minister Hun Sen reported as saying that a new coal plant would be constructed in Preah Sihanouk province instead.8
Two large dams have also been considered on the Mekong mainstream at Sambor (465MW) and Stung Treng (980MW), however, there is considerable controversy related to the development of mainstream dams.
The main government ministry responsible for the development of the Cambodian hydropower sector is MME (formerly MIME).9 The State power company Electricity du Cambodge (EdC) is responsible for day-to-day aspects of management of the electricity sector and the Electricity Authority of Cambodia (EAC) for issuing generation and transmission licenses.10
There is currently no law on hydropower in Cambodia, although there are a number of laws with relevance to the development and running of such projects, including the laws related to investment, electricity, land, forests, water resources and the environment.
The first step in developing a hydropower project is to seek a Memorandum of Understanding with MME in order to conduct and prepare a feasibility study, which can typically take one to two years to complete. After completion of the study a company may enter further discussion with MME about developing the project.11
All projects with investment of over US$50 million and all BOT projects must be approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC),12 which is the highest decision-making body for private and public sector investment in Cambodia.13 In addition, under the Law on Water Resource Management, all hydropower projects require a water use license from MOWRAM.14
All hydropower projects must be subject to an environmental impact assessment prior to approval,15 and environmental impact assessments (EIAs) should be conducted according to the procedures set out by the Ministry of Environment (MoE).16 The findings of the EIA should be considered in the final decision whether or not to approve a project.
As the hydropower sector in Cambodia is still in the early stages of development it is not clear what long-term trends will emerge. Likewise, it is still unclear if and how the benefits will be realized and whether or not impacts will be adequately mitigated.
It is clear that many of these large hydropower projects will flood large areas of land, for example, the Lower Sesan 2 will flood more than 340 km2. Many of the proposed sites are in forested areas with rich biodiversity and sensitive eco-systems, which stand to be severely impacted by this type of development. Impacts on fish migrations and access to forest products threaten to harm the livelihoods of local people, as does the inundation of agricultural and residential land.
The fisheries administration found in a study released in 2013 that the proposed Sambor and Stung Treng dams could reduce fish stocks, threatening Cambodia’s food security.17
Large hydropower projects by their very nature will inevitably have considerable impacts on the environment, and must therefore be subject to adequate impact assessment, and if approved must have appropriate mitigation measures in place to reduce any negative impacts.
The Cambodian energy sector needs considerable development in generation and transmission if it is to meet the growing needs of the country and provide a stable and affordable power supply to potential investors in industry. The government sees hydropower as a priority area for development in the energy sector. Over recent years, investors and developers from China, Vietnam, Korea, Russia, Canada and Japan have all studied the opportunities for hydropower development in Cambodia.
Concerns have been raised by civil society and communities affected by hydropower projects that inadequate attention is being paid to the negative impacts and public consultation is inadequate. High quality environmental impact assessments and open decision making are crucial to ensure that the hydropower sector is developed in a way that minimizes harm while maximizing the benefits for Cambodia and its investors.
Last updated: 24 April 2016
- Energy policy and administration
- Electricity production
- Environmental impact assessments
- Environment and natural resources
- 1. Cambodia National Mekong Committee (prepared by MIME), National Sector Review 2003: Hydropower, June 2003 (p5, 8-9).
- 2. Electricity Authority of Cambodia. 2015. Annual Report on Energy Sector 2014. Phnom Penh: Electricity Authority of Cambodia.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Electricity Authority of Cambodia, Report on power sector for the year 2014. http://eac.gov.kh/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/report-2014en.pdf Accessed 24 April 2016.
- 5. Ou, Sokha. “Construction Project of Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Dam Completed Over 50%.” Agence Kampuchea Presse, 27 March 2015. Accessed 30 June 2015. http://www.akp.gov.kh/?p=62913.
- 6. Lay Samean 2016. ‘New body to address Sesan dam concerns’, The Phnom Penh Post, 27 January 2016. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/new-body-address-sesan-dam-concerns accessed 30 January 2016.
- 7. Electricity Authority of Cambodia, Report on power sector for the year 2014. http://eac.gov.kh/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/report-2014en.pdf Accessed 24 April 2016.
- 8. May Kunmakara, 2017. “Toshba to build power plant”, Khmer Times, 28 February 2017.
- 9. Electricity Law, 2001. Article 3.
- 10. Ibid.
- 11. Middleton, C. Cambodia’s Hydropower Development and China’s Involvement, International Rivers and Rivers Coalition of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, January 2008.
- 12. Sub-decree on the Organization and Functioning of the Council for Development of Cambodia (CDC) 1995, Article 9.
- 13. Law on Investment in the Kingdom of Cambodia 1994, Article 1.
- 14. Law on Water Resource Management 2007, Article 12.
- 15. Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management 1996, Article 6; Sub-decree on Environmental Impact Assessments Process 1999, Annex.
- 16. Prakas on General Guideline for Writing a Preliminary and Final Report on Environmental Impact Assessment 2009.
- 17. Kaner, David, and Menghun Kaing. “Mekong Dams Could Be Threat to Cambodia’s Food Security.” The Cambodia Daily, 27 June 2013. Accessed 1 May 2015. https://www.cambodiadaily.com/archives/mekong-dams-could-be-threat-to-cambodias-food-security-32202/.