The completion of dual diversion tunnels, river diversion and closure works marked the safe completion of the critical package of the project.
KUCHING: The 1,285MW Baleh Hydroelectric Project (HEP), which is Sarawak Energy’s largest hydropower project to date, has reached a major milestone with the completion of its dual diversion tunnels, river diversion and closure works.
Following the completion, the local Iban communities requested that a blessing or ‘miring’ ceremony be organised, and this was has been carried out.
This blessing ritual, which also marked the safe completion of the critical package of the project, was carried out with support from Kapit Resident and Bukit Mabong District Offices.
Community leader Penghulu Jampi Rawing together with the other Tuai Rumahs (headmen) of both the directly and indirectly affected communities conducted the ‘miring’ ritual last Wednesday at three locations – the right and left banks upstream of the cofferdam and in the central area.
The ceremony was also witnessed by, among others, Kapit Resident Nyurak Keti, Bukit Mabong District Officer Douglas Pungga Lawang, representatives from Kapit District Council and Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB). The number of attendees was kept at a minimum as a preventive measure due to the ongoing Covid-19 infection.
The completion of diversion tunnels, river diversion and closure is part of the project’s six work packages.
Measuring 1.2km, the dual concrete-lined diversion tunnels running parallel to each other to enable river diversion activities, are now fully functional.
Minister of Utilities Datuk Seri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom congratulated Sarawak Energy and commended the Baleh project team and the contractors for their continued focus on achieving the milestone despite multiple challenges at the project site and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Baleh HEP is one of Sarawak’s largest state infrastructure projects and Sarawak Energy’s largest hydropower project so far. The project is crucial to securing the energy capacity needed for Sarawak’s future growth and development and will support the state’s ambition of achieving high-income status by 2030 through providing renewable hydropower for growth,” Rundi said.
“During my visit in July, I was able to see the immense scale of the project. At its peak, the project is expected to employ some 3,000 people. I look forward to seeing Sarawak Energy reach future target milestones with government support.”
Sarawak Energy group chief executive officer, Datuk Sharbini Suhaili, thanked the state government and local communities for their support that has enabled the corporation to meet its delivery targets.
“The Baleh HEP will contribute towards maintaining Sarawak Energy’s status as Malaysia’s largest renewable energy provider. The project involves multiple stakeholders with different needs. In balancing these, support from the government and communities has been crucial so that we can meet our completion target for the diversion tunnels. This is critical to meet the current commissioning target of Baleh HEP by 2026.
“On behalf of Sarawak Energy, I express my appreciation to all who made this possible especially the Minister of Utilities, State Disaster Management Committee, Kapit Resident’s Office, Bukit Mabong District Office, Land and Survey Sarawak, Natural Resources Environmental Board, Sarawak Rivers Board, the communities of Baleh and Kapit, and many others,” Sharbini said.
Last September, executive vice president for project delivery, Ir Pramod Kumar Karunakaran, led the Baleh project team and its partner contractors in marking and assessing the readiness of the diversion tunnels during Baleh HEP’s Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) Week.
He explained, “With the simultaneous completion of our diversion tunnels as well as upstream cofferdam construction in October, we were able to effect the river diversion to enable the construction of the main dam. The river then goes through the diversion tunnels to enable the closure of a stretch of the upper Batang Baleh. The water retained within the main dam area will be drained to create a dry working environment so that work on the main dam can be carried out safely.”
The river diversion and closure works for Baleh HEP commenced on October 1, 2020 and were officially completed on October 16, 2020. The construction of the closure berm or rock layer across the upper Batang Baleh will continue till the safe elevation of 71 meters in a month’s time. Once completed, the main dam construction will begin.
People who use the river are still able to commute downstream and upstream of the closed area via an alternative by-pass road connecting the two sections closed by Sarawak Energy. Rest houses have been built on the opposite banks of the diversion tunnels and they have boat landing facilities. In addition, trailers are available as an option for river users who prefer to use their own boats.
Ir Pramod also emphasised the importance of safety in project delivery especially for a large-scale project like the Baleh HEP.
“I am truly grateful that with the close collaboration between our project team and the contractors, as well as the support from all stakeholders, we have been able to overcome many obstacles to deliver our targets timely and safely,” he said.
When fully commissioned in 2026, Baleh HEP will join Sarawak’s stable of hydropower plants that include Batang Ai, Murum and Bakun to support Sarawak’s aspiration to become a regional powerhouse of renewable and affordable energy.