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Time To Move From Sarawak

What's with the Bakun project? It was suppose to help alleviate the power shortage in Peninsular Malaysia... but that idea went belly-up... after spending about RM2 billion. Now, we can say enough is enough, cut the project.... or find a problem to the solution... The solution is Bakun can generate lotsa electricity... now how do we find the users for that ... now that transporting it to the Peninsular is not feasible.

The dam (damn) project is now expected to gradually generate electricity from late 2009. Shutting down the Bakun project seems to be a lost of face for the authorities... cannot let this happen... or else people will laugh at us (pssst... they already are laughing).

So they came up with aluminum smelting plants. These plants are big consumers of ... electricity... with soaring electricity tariffs and raw-material costs, many aluminum plants have closed shop in the United States and Europe. Major smelters are now searching the globe for places where electricity is cheap, and waahhh-llaaaahhh ... we have a match with Bakun's excess potential.

This is an environmentalist nightmare, first they had to protest fervently on the erection of the dam in the first place, the destruction of tropical rainforest, landscape, displacement of animals and people, the usual thing.... environ 101. Now, they have to contend with aluminum smelters. For those who are not aware, ... China, the world's largest aluminum user, have closed more than 40 smelters last year because of higher costs and government moves to curb pollution. If there was a casebook study of how to export pollution - this is it!!! Now China is not exactly known to be a strict police when it comes to environmental issues... so if Chinese government deem these to be "unsavoury".... why the hell are we allowing these things to be put up in beautiful Sarawak... is it because its far enough from Putrajaya??

In 2001, the government, after the undersea cables were deemed to be unfeasible, surprisingly decided to stick to the original 2,400MW capacity. Sarawak has a wealth of alternative energy resources such as natural gas. According to the Bintulu Development Authority, the state has a total known gas reserve of about 50 trillion standard cubic feet. The production of aluminum requires a huge amount of electricity, accounting for close to 40% of production costs, which explains why many smelters are built near major sources of electricity supply. We now have bidding for approval to build a smelter from Smelter Asia with China Aluminum International Engineering, which reportedly wants to set up a 500,000-tonne-capacity plant that would consume about half of Bakun's output. Another Malaysia-China consortium is seeking approval for a US$3.2 billion smelter. The local firms in this consortium are Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS) and Press Metal. Giant multinationals reportedly also in the running are Australia-based Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton teaming up with Mitsubishi Corp, and the Alcoa Group. Smelter Asia is owned by tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary. CMS, on the other hand, is a well-connected group with diversified interests in Sarawak led by Sulaiman Abdul Taib, the son of powerful Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud. CMS Cement, which is capable of producing some 2 million tonnes a year, has a near-monopoly on cement in Sarawak, while another, CMS Steel, produces 300,000 tonnes of steel bars and wire rods. In 2004, the group announced that CMS Energy had been awarded a 51% stake in a contract worth RM130 million for design and execution of the hydraulic steel structure package of the dam. The group is thus well placed to benefit from the dam's construction work, which requires huge amounts of cement and steel. Environmentalists are worried about the polluting effects of smelters. Smelters emit perfluorocarbon (PFC), which is detrimental to humans, animals and vegetation and has global-warming potential. The environment has already been terribly degraded through logging and the rivers polluted through siltation and sedimentation.

RM4-6 billion is quite a sum, we could use it to build a really large planetarium, turn Sarawak to be the epicenter for eco-tourism, map out hiking and mountain biking trails, build 3 and 4 star accomodations throughout the state attractions, organise Sarawak to be the Asian center for "high-octane" sports (iron-man, rock climbing, super marathon, eco challange, kayaking, white water rafting, skydiving, bungee jumping, etc...), hey, even a casino with a landing strip all on its own is not too bad an idea, or how about a special world class research university concentrating studying tropical rainforests and its inhabitants, a really big holiday village of spa treatments/yoga/meditation/ayurvedic/slimming farms/detox camps/culinary camps ... and still we won't be able to spend the entire amount, I think.

This is not just a political issue ... even as a business case, the Bakun dam cannot stand on its own merits. If the original plan to transmit the power via underseas cable to the Peninsular is still viable, maybe Bakun could be justifiable. Bakun itself is already riddled with a horrific cost-benefit analysis with the destruction and displacement to make way for the dam. At least if the power generated was for the people ... but now... the power generated is for smelters which will continually take its toll in the surrounding areas. What next, allow nuclear testing off the shores of Sarawak?? Why must we be so thin-skinned, why can't we admit that the Bakun thing was an "irrational exuberence" mistake of the excessive 90s, and move on. Yes, RM2 billion has been spent, now we are pouring another RM4-6 billion to make sure the mistake will fester and grow and live on and on. There are certainly more important things in life than business... are the people of Sarawak suffering from dire unemployment, what kind of important technology transfer will the smelters bring to the state, will it push Malaysia higher up the economic development scale... the resounding NO to all is quite clear. What are our priorities ... as citizens, politicians, home-makers ... is this for the people??? How will we explain to our children??


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