Bright future awaits Ba’Kelalan and rural Lawas villagers

Connection works are underway for Rh Ungi in the Limbang Division. Since 2009, about 18,000 rural homes in the division have access to reliable 24-hour electricity.

KUCHING: The villagers in Ba’Kelalan are involved mostly in farming and agricultural activities supplemented by homestay businesses run by locals.

However, due to the distance from the towns, the villagers are rarely able to market their produce.

The lack of electricity also means that the processing of the Adan rice and highland salt is either done manually or powered by diesel generators which can only run for limited times.

But with steady electricity supply by 2023, the villagers can have access to refrigeration as well as modern machinery that can boost productivity, said Sarawak Energy group chief executive officer Datuk Sharbini Suhaili.

Sharbini said his team was working hard to ensure full electricity coverage for the northern region in the next few years.  

“In July 2020, we commissioned our new Kota 2 mini hydro power plant in Lawas, a run-of-river scheme with a total installed capacity of 10.5MW.

“This has boosted our generation capacity and reduced the dependence on diesel power generation in northern Sarawak pending the completion of our Extra High Voltage or EHV transmission projects to connect Limbang and Lawas to our main electrical grid.

“Our team is also enhancing and reinforcing the electrical distribution system in the area. While the current restrictions under the nationwide movement control order (MCO) have presented uncertainties and challenges to safe and timely work progression, works in the area are moving under full compliance with the relevant standard operating procedures (SOPs) and stringent in-house Covid-19 precautionary measures,” he explained.

The Rural Electrification Scheme (RES) involves extension of the grid system for rural households with road accessibility.

Sharbini added a new distribution system technology known as the Medium Voltage Covered Conductor (MVCC) had been adopted to connect Lawas town under the Limbang Division to rural Ba’ Kelalan taking into account the area’s harsh geographical conditions.

“The first phase of the project has commenced and the implementation will be synchronised with the commissioning of the new Lawas Town Extra High Voltage substation in 2022.

“MVCC is able to withstand momentary contact with crops or vegetation without causing interruptions and this will help in strengthening supply reliability,” he said.

Meanwhile, Utilities Minister Datuk Seri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom said,“With access to reliable electricity supply, our rural communities will enjoy greater convenience and opportunities for a better standard of living.

He pointed out that the villagers in rural Lawas would be able to process their produce and sell them in bigger and further away towns then.

“Similar planning and implementation of rural electrifications throughout Sarawak are undertaken to achieve full supply coverage statewide,” he added.

The rural electrification projects in the state, he explained, would  be accelerated to ensure the whole of Sarawak including the rural northern part to access reliable and affordable electricity supply by 2025.

“Based on the plans made by the state government through the Ministry of Utilities Sarawak and its implementing agency Sarawak Energy, by the end of this year, almost 200 more households in the Limbang Division will be connected to the grid.

“This includes about 120 households that were recovered from projects left abandoned by a previous contractor five years ago.

“Following the development of the Projek Rakyat initiative to accelerate the Rural Electrification Master Plan 2018, we have been able to really step up on our electrification efforts.

“We are thankful to the Sarawak government and Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg that our plan has been supported with an allocation of RM2.37 billion to cover rural transmission and distribution projects as well the implementation of Sarawak Alternative Rural Electrification Scheme (Sares) in distant villages,” said Rundi. 

He pointed out that the rural electrification coverage in Sarawak had risen to 95 in 2020 and was expected to reach 97 percent in the coming months.

“I would like to express my thanks to the rural electrification team including contractors and subcontractors, as well as all our partner agencies such as Resident; District Offices as well as the Public Works Department (PWD) for their hard work.

“Another big success factor is the leadership provided by the community leaders and the support of our rural folk who look forward to the basic utilities their counterparts in town also enjoy. I look forward to the day when we can confidently say there is no Sarawakian that is left in the dark,” he added.

Rundi further assured that despite the many challenges which included logistics due to area remoteness, wayleave issues, acceptance from villagers and the current global Covid-19 pandemic, his ministry was working closely with Sarawak Energy and would remain committed to ensuring that rural Sarawak will have access to 24-hour reliable and affordable electricity.