The Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy
Between 2006 and 2010 the federal government of Malaysia announced a series of five proposed economic corridors in an attempt to stimulate global and domestic investment in rural areas across the country. SCORE, or the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, is one of these five corridors.
Between six and twelve dams were scheduled to be completed in Sarawak by 2020 as part of SCORE. Of these, the Bakun and Murum dams are completed. The Baleh dam is next in line to be built. The Baram dam was scheduled to be built, but after facing fierce opposition from indigenous and environmental communities, plans for the dam were shelved in March 2016.
The adjective “renewable” in SCORE is an inaccurate description, as exploitation of coal reserves, construction of new coal power plants, and deforestation from oil palm plantation expansion are part of the SCORE plan.
The new power is intended to feed energy intensive industries such as aluminium and steel production, two of the priority sectors under SCORE. The main interested investors in energy-intensive industries are Malaysian companies Press Metal (aluminium smelter), Tokuyama (polycrystalline silicon plant), OM Materials (manganese and ferrosilicon alloy smelter) and Asia Minerals Ltd (manganese smelter).
Why build the dams?
The government and the dam builder, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), claim that the dams will create the energy needed to develop industry in Sarawak. Studies from the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley find otherwise. Learn how diversified energy systems can more efficiently provide rural energy, and how Sarawak can meet industrial growth without expanding the SCORE mega-dams in the Alternatives Section. Find out more about the why the government wants to build the dams on the Corruption Page (spoiler alert: large development projects make companies and their government cronies TONS of money).
Who’s building the dams?
Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) is responsible for the planning of all hydropower projects and coal plants in Sarawak. SEB is a 100% state-owned electricity supplier in Sarawak under the State Financial Secretary. It is chaired by Abdul Hamed Sepawi, the cousin and one of the closest business allies of Sarawak’s infamous former Chief Minister Taib Mahmud. Sepawi made a fortune from logging contracts granted by his cousin. With an estimated fortune of USD 175 million, he was ranked Malaysia’s 38th richest person by Forbes Asia in 2012. The Chinese companies Sinohydro and the China Three Gorges Corporation are in charge of construction.
Who is fighting the dams?
A local alliance of affected communities including the Baram Protection Action Committee (BPAC), the Sarawak-wide network SAVE Rivers, and the national coalition of Indigenous People Jaringan Orang Asal Se-Malaysia (JOAS) are working together to raise awareness of the destruction and dispossession that will be caused by the development of the dams. In October 2013, Baram community members established two road blockades to prevent construction, surveying work and logging at the proposed location of the Baram Dam. As a result, preparatory construction works have remained stalled. Protests and demonstrations occur regularly. In September of 2015 Chief Minister Adenan Satem announced a moratorium on the Baram dam, but he has yet to put this promise in writing.
Dam Trends Globally
Mega-Dams: Centuries’ Old Technology on the Way Out
Mega hydro-dams are an impractical, illogical, and outdated technology. In 2000, the World Commission on Dams, an entity established in 1998 by the World Bank and the IUCN to review large dam projects all over the world, concluded that on average dam projects face cost-overruns of 56%, that promoters systematically exaggerate expected benefits, and that 55% of the analysed dams generated less power than projected. Similarly, a 2014 study out of Oxford University finds that, “even before accounting for negative impacts on human society and environment, the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return.”
Trends in the US towards decommissioning dams have experienced resounding success. In 2014, 72 dams were removed, restoring more than 730 miles of streams for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and people. Within the last few years Vietnam has cancelled construction of over 30 dams. China was forced to cancel construction of a dam on the Jinsha river that would have displaced up to 100,000 people.
Read about Thayer Scudder, the world’s leading expert on the impact of dams and relocation, and how he decided that large dams aren’t worth the cost in The New York Times. Check out a map of decomissioned dams in the US here.