2025 target to power rural Sarawak

Overhead lines installed along Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) plantation sites to grid-connect Rumah Luang, Empaong in Roban.

KUCHING: Plantation owners, timber companies and villagers are urged to work together towards achieving the state’s full electrification target for rural areas.

Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) said the state government through the Ministry of Utilities and its implementing agency is targeting to fully electrify Sarawak by the year 2025.

Having said that, SEB pointed out that Sarawak’s current domestic coverage is at 98 percent with full electrification in urban, but five percent of rural areas have yet to be electrified.

“The Sarawak government has launched several initiatives to accelerate electrification for distant rural communities. The successful implementation of these initiatives requires collaboration and cooperation between all stakeholders which include plantation owners and timber companies.

“The ministry is urging all stakeholders and calling on plantation owners, timber companies as well as villagers to work together on the solutions to benefit all Sarawakians, especially in land access matters. This will contribute to Sarawak achieving its full electrification target for rural areas by 2025 or even earlier,” SEB said in a statement today.

Overhead lines installation works along TH Plantations completed for Kampung Sungai Jong in Simunjan.

Meanwhile, Minister of Utilities Datuk Seri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom stated that the journey of electrifying 95 percent of rural Sarawak has not been an easy one.

Despite this, the ministry and SEB are confident in achieving the target of full rural coverage by 2025 or earlier with the cooperation from all stakeholders, he added.

“This includes working closely with the Resident’s Office as well as   district office, elected representatives, plantation and timber companies plus the villagers.

“Under the state government’s Projek Rakyat Accelerated Rural Electrification Masterplan, Sarawak was able to achieve 95 percent rural electricity coverage in 2020 as compared to just 56 percent in 2009 despite Sarawak’s dense rainforests, rugged terrain and remote rural settlements,” he said.

Dr Rundi noted that the plantation companies and villagers play a significant role in the rural electrification efforts because the electricity grid and supply lines cross their lands as these are extended to the outer limits of Sarawak’s countryside.

He pointed out that the cooperation from these stakeholders is crucial in enabling access into lands where the network of supply lines will cross and strategic locations have been identified by taking into consideration the shortest possible distance and accessibility.

“As advised by SEB, we have received greater cooperation from some of these plantation companies thus expediting our project timeline and enabling both the companies and villages to enjoy the benefits of grid electricity soon.

“We appreciate their understanding that this is for the general good of all and I truly hope that all companies will extend this same level of cooperation, not only during electrification works, but also involves the subsequent accessibility for operations and maintenance of electrical distribution systems,” he said.

The Kemena assemblyman also said SEB’s efforts to ensure timely delivery of projects as well as subsequent essential operations and maintenance of the completed work are occasionally disrupted by private companies seeking road maintenance charges for entry.

Overhead lines installed along Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) plantation sites to grid-connect Rumah Luang, Empaong in Roban.

“A collaborative effort is crucial to ensure the smooth, safe and timely implementation of these electrification projects especially now with the Covid-19 pandemic causing movement restrictions and challenges in logistics,” he added.

On another note, SEB vice president for rural electrification Dr Chen Shiun said the challenges of rural electrification are mainly due to the struggles of reaching remote areas with limited or without proper accessibility.

Such circumstances require the rural electrification team to take boats or hike through the jungle to reach communities such as Penan settlements.

“In order for us to extend the state grid into the rural areas, we need to construct electrical distribution poles, supply lines or even substations at strategic rural locations. These grid solutions are known as the Rural Electrification Scheme (RES) and the Rural Power Supply Scheme (PRSS).

“Prior to implementing these rural electrification projects, our team will meet and brief the plantation owners on the project location, background and plan for grid connectivity. Grid connection eliminates the need to depend on expensive and noisy diesel generator sets with limited running hours.

“Plantation companies which are connected to the grid system are able to power their offices and workers’ quarters with 24/7 reliable and affordable electricity supply. Equipment and machineries can now be brought in to help boost production yields and plantation development, opening up opportunities for business expansion,” he explained.

He said Sarawak’s rural communities will enjoy greater convenience and opportunities for a better standard of living with access to reliable grid power supply.

“For others where this is simply impossible given the remoteness of location, we will light up these communities through the Sarawak Alternative Rural Electrification Scheme (Sares).

“For households too distant to be grid-connected, Sares lights up remote households using standalone renewable alternative systems such as solar power. Each household is provided with 3,000Wh of free electricity a day, enough to power up a typical rural household’s basic needs,” he said.