KUCHING: Six districts in the state’s central region are on track to be fully electrified by 2022, said Utilities Minister Datuk Seri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom.
“Despite the challenges of the movement control restrictions and land access issues, Sarawak is still on course to fully electrify the districts of Sibu, Sarikei, Mukah, Kapit, Bukit Mabong and Song by the end of next year,” he said in a statement today (Aug 26).
“Full access to electricity across Sarawak will bring opportunities for a better standard of living, more convenience, greater savings and enable businesses in Sarawak’s rural communities to thrive and grow,” he said.
Rundi added that his ministry is able to achieve tremendous progress after Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg agreed to allocate RM2.37 billion under the Projek Rakyat.
He explained that this is to step up on the rural electrification efforts, covering rural transmission and distribution projects as well as the implementation of off-grid solutions for remote villages.
He also said the allocation has enabled the simultaneous implementation of the rural electrification strategies under the Accelerated Rural Electrification Masterplan.
“For the central region, about 5,807 rural households have been provided with reliable 24-hour electricity supply through these initiatives since 2019.
“This includes 3,703 rural households in Kapit that now have access to reliable 24-hour electricity through the stand-alone off-grid Sarawak Alternative Rural Electrification Scheme (Sares).
“This stop-gap initiative provides off-grid renewable electricity to the most remote households with difficult terrain before conventional electrification via grid makes its way to them,” he said.
He added that by the end of the year, an additional 4,591 rural households in the central region will have access to reliable 24-hour electricity supply, of which 4,035 households will be grid-connected, while 133 rural households will be supplied through the off-grid Sares scheme.
Furthermore, it said 3,728 more rural households in the region are to be given access to the reliable 24-hour electricity supply by 2022 before electricity coverage in the region achieves 100 percent.
According to Rundi, collaboration and cooperation are crucial towards ensuring smooth, safe and timely implementation of the electrification projects which are planned for the benefit of the people.
“I truly appreciate these collaborative efforts between the ministry and Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB)’s rural electrification team, including contractors and subcontractors, our partner agencies such as Resident and District Offices, the Public Works Department, village heads, and communities for making this possible,” he said.
Rundi also assured the public that his ministry, working closely with SEB, remains committed to ensuring that rural Sarawak will have access to 24-hour reliable and affordable electricity.
“The challenges for the central region with its dispersed population include logistics difficulties due to the area’s vast remoteness,” said SEB group chief executive officer (CEO) Datuk Sharbini Suhaili.
The challenges also include acceptance from villagers and coordination with road projects undertaken by other agencies, he noted.
“In addition, the current Covid-19 pandemic has interrupted project timelines causing a shortage of materials and challenges in logistics,” he added.
However, the CEO said they are optimistic about meeting Sarawak’s target of full electrification by 2025 or earlier.
“We recently commissioned three new 33/11kV medium voltage substations at Pakan, Nanga Ngungun and Julau to improve the supply reliability in the area.
“These new substations will be a vital interface between the transmission system and the distribution network, minimising the barriers to extend the distribution system further into the rural areas.
“Within the third quarter of 2021, another extra-high voltage substation in Kanowit will be commissioned, further reinforcing the energy security within the central region,” he said.
The projects in the central region adopted a new distribution system technology known as the Medium Voltage Covered Conductor (MVCC) that takes into consideration the area’s harsh geographical conditions.
Covered conductors can withstand momentary contact with crops or vegetation without causing interruptions, which will help to strengthen supply reliability.
The electrification efforts for the six districts in the central region have been accelerated to 2022 given the ongoing Baleh Hydroelectric Project (HEP).
The 1,285MW Baleh HEP under the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, scheduled to be commissioned in 2026, has accelerated infrastructure development with the construction of bridges and roads.
“SEB will be connecting the Selirik Substation at Kapit to the Baleh HEP using the MVCC distribution technology when the hydroelectric project is completed.
“The new Selirik Substation to Baleh HEP MVCC line will be the backbone for supplying rural villages in between Kapit and Baleh.
“SEB will first connect the rural villages along the distribution lines to the grid while the more remote and inaccessible villages will be provided with Sares solar systems as a temporary electrification solution.
“The long-term plan is for all villages in the area to be gradually grid-connected as road access improves,” Rundi added.