February 25, 2011 — Phat Sambath, a 56-year-old small-business owner, is happy when he turns on electricity now because at last he can afford it. Sambath, who lives in Kna village, Cheu Teal commune, in Banan district of Battambang Province, used to pay 5,000 riel per kilowatt-hour and the electricity was available only two hours a day. In April 2010, his power supplier connected to a new grid and the price has gone down to 1,200 riel/kWh. He expects it to go down further but best of all, the power is reliable.
Before connecting to the grid in April, Sambath spent around 30,000 riel a month for diesel to run his own generator. Now he gets all his electricity from the new connection and, for about the same amount of money, has been able to increase his consumption six-fold with 24-hour service. He can switch on more lights, have a fan on, keep his shop open later in the evening, and his family can use electricity for cooking.
“Connecting to this new power grid has helped us a lot,” he laughs. “My wife does not need to spend so much time cooking. We just plug in the stove and that’s it. We now have more time for working in the shop. I am also planning to buy a refrigerator for the shop.”
Meas Thy, 38, a member of a poor family in Chi Nek village, Anlong Vel commune, Sangke District, seven kilometers from the Battambang town, connected to electricity a year ago. She pays 15,000 to 20,000 riel a month for electricity at 1,000 riel/kWh. She turned available space in her residential land to a vegetable plot. Now she wants to buy an electric water-pump to help water her vegetables. She earns between 300,000 and 400,000 riel every three months from her garden to support the six people in her family. “If I had an electric water pump, I could grow more vegetables,” she says.
Bo Vannak, 35, is a farmer in Kropeu Khang Cheung village, Phnom Sampov commune of Battambang province. He connected to grid power supply in December 2010 and plans to use electricity to help grow vegetables for extra income.
Vannak used to get his electricity from a rural energy enterprise for 5,000 riel/kWh. Now he pays 1,700 riel/kWh to the same supplier, but the tariff will go down 100 riel every two months until it reaches 1,100 riel/kWh. With reliable power, his children and his relatives can study and do their homework at night.
Sambath, Thy, and Vannak are among the 70,000 households now connected to a reliable grid electricity supply at a lower tariff under the World Bank-assisted Rural Electrification and Transmission Project (RETP). This US$40 million project will help 100,000 households get access to cheaper, reliable electricity. The project includes supporting the construction of a 23 km high-voltage line and 560kms of medium-voltage line (MVL), building a National Dispatching Center, establishing the Rural Electrification Fund, and updating a power master plan.
Battambang is one of five provinces the on-grid component of the project covers. The others are Kampot, Takeo, Sihanoukville, and Kampong Speu. In Battambang province alone, the plan is to connect 22,500 households with 155km of MVL. By the end of 2010, Electricity of Battambang and Rural Energy Enterprises connected about 19,400 households with 161km of MVL.
Mr. Lim Bun Than, Director of Electricity of Battambang, said with RETP support the province has achieved 91% of the project goal and he expects to complete connections this year.
“Having electricity is so important,” he said. “Poverty can be reduced by increasing incomes with the help of power for businesses and agriculture. Hospitals, health centers and clinics are all using this reliable electricity to preserve the quality of medicines.”
42,000 households are being supported by the Rural Electrification Fund supported by off-grid component of RETP, which gives grants to private suppliers to increase the number of households connected to their grids.
Sang Seap, Deputy Director of Phin Vipheavy Rural Energy Enterprise in Chhlong District of Kratie Province, said that with RETP support his company is able to reach 910 more households.
“If we did not have support from RETP, villages would have needed to wait one or two more years to get connected,” he said. Villagers who connected to Phin Vipheavy Company pay 2,800 riel/kWh: the company is still using a diesel generator.
Only 26% of Cambodians have access to electricity, one of the lowest electrification rates in the world. Yet Cambodians pay one of the highest rates in the world for power, with prices ranging widely from 600 riel/kWh to 4,000 riel/kWh for grid power supply.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has set a goal of raising rural households’ access to reliable and affordable electricity to 70% by 2030.