Interview: Zulkifle Osman

How has the Bakun Hydroelectric Project been progressing in recent years? What is the current supply focus for the dam?

ZULKIFLE OSMAN: The Bakun Hydroelectric Project is now complete; with all eight turbines successfully installed and commissioned, it is officially the largest hydroelectric power station in South-east Asia, with the capacity to produce up to 2400 MW of power. The power purchase agreement with SESCO was inked in June 2011, and we have been transmitting electricity since August of the same year.

The power generated is transmitted all over Sarawak via the grid, including to areas within the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), which has managed to secure 19 approved projects with a total estimated investment of RM30.4bn ($9.25bn). With the bulk of such investments being put towards manufacturing facilities for energy-intensive industries such as aluminium and manganese smelters, we believe the project’s contribution towards supplying reliable, green and cheap energy has made a direct impact upon investors’ confidence in that area. SCORE will certainly continue to grow in size, and we welcome the challenge of ensuring that SCORE gets all of the energy it needs in the coming years.

In what ways does the Bakun Hydroelectric Project benefit local residents and small and mediumsized enterprises in its geographic vicinity?

ZULKIFLE: The Bakun reservoir, an area almost as large as Singapore, has opened up new economic opportunities to the locals living in the area. In terms of agriculture and aquaculture, the dam has made it easier for many locals and small-scale businesses to identify sweet spots within the reservoir to haul larger hordes of fish, which they either take for their own consumption or sell off. The Bakun Hydroelectric Project has also opened doors for local businesses to be involved directly in jobs at the Bakun reservoir. For example, the company originally tasked with clearing up the biomass before impoundment is now contracted to clear up leftover logs and debris.

At the same time, we are taking steps to acknowledge and recognise the sacrifices made by locals in relocating themselves to make way for the Bakun Hydroelectric Project, especially with the impounding of the Bakun reservoir. Therefore, various corporate social responsibility programmes are in place to benefit those who live in the vicinity of the Bakun reservoir. It is important to set aside time and funding to give back to the local community through programmes that focus on education, medical care, utilities infrastructure and sustainable economic development.

What maintenance and supply challenges exist for the Bakun Hydroelectric Project post-completion, and how are these challenges being met?

ZULKIFLE: The plant is currently in full operation, so machine reliability and efficiency are always high on our agenda. We are constantly improving the performance of our assets and processes, and must ensure that all machines are working well so as to reduce downtime and minimise outages. Admittedly, in the initial stages, we had our fair share of problems, but we are overcoming them steadily and surely. It is very daunting indeed, but maintaining a steady and reliable supply of energy as we embark upon a rigorous maintenance regime for our machines is crucial.

That said, we also recognise that human capital is a very important asset in the field of hydroelectric power. Without qualified, well-trained and competent human capital, we would not be able to achieve the reliability and efficiency we aspire to at the plant. In light of this, we have looked at the training and future development of our staff at all levels, and have identified various courses and programmes that would prove beneficial to their continued development and upskilling. At the end of the day, having highly skilled and motivated staff is the key to mitigating future issues and ensuring the sustainability of the industry.