Call to consolidate efforts to accelerate electrification projects in northern Sarawak

The Marudi Junction 275/132/33kV Substation.

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KUCHING, Sept 13: The Sarawak government, through the Utilities Ministry and Sarawak Energy Berhad (Sarawak Energy) has accelerated the pace of electrification in Northern Sarawak by extending the main electricity grid which will strengthen supply for Limbang Division and cater to the power exchange interconnection with Sabah.

However, Sarawak Energy in a statement said critical challenges remain which continue to impede progress especially concerning land claims requiring the cooperation of all stakeholders.

As such, immediate steps will be taken to address the challenges.

Sarawak Energy said an in-progress meeting was held last week chaired by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan together with representatives from the Utilities Ministry and Sarawak Energy on the electrification in the northern region.

Discussions were focused on consolidated strategies that would expedite electrification projects up north and address challenges that have delayed major sections of the rakyat’s project.

The discussions were primarily on the Northern Grid Extension project and how its delay impacts stability of electricity supply in Limbang Division and also the People’s Project initiatives regarding rural electrification for the region.

The Deputy Chief Minister was briefed on the Northern Grid Extension project’s status and was informed of the challenges that Sarawak Energy was facing in meeting project completion targets scheduled for 2024. A critical portion that is facing significant delay is the Bunut-Medamit 275kV which is currently affected by land and wayleave issues.

“We need to prioritise the Northern Grid Extension Project. The people of Limbang and Lawas must be connected to the main electricity grid and benefit from a modernised electricity supply system that would only spur development in the region.

“Rest assured we are looking into the challenges and issues faced by Sarawak Energy in delivering this critical project and will provide the support they need to complete the Northern Grid Extension. These are all projects that are meant for the rakyat and therefore it has to be done and completed,” said Awang Tengah.

Sarawak Energy added the delay also deprived the people of Lawas and Limbang of stable and reliable electricity supply as both districts are now powered through standalone power stations and are dependent on ageing diesel generators with limited capacity.

Both districts have been experiencing a spate of outages from load shedding due to generator breakdowns.

Immediate mitigation actions include purchasing new generator sets and enhancing the protection system to prevent mass outages.

These issues will be permanently resolved once the Northern Grid Extension project comes online by the scheduled completion date of 2024.

Meanwhile, the challenges faced in the Northern Grid Extension project together with the movement restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic are also slowing down Rural Electrification last mile efforts to connect villages around Bunut, Batu Danau, Ulu Medamit, Ba’kelalan and Bario.

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

Rural electricity coverage for Limbang Division currently stands at 94.5 per cent with more than 18,000 households already connected with 24-hour electricity.

Sarawak Energy disclosed plans are in place to electrify the remaining 1,071 households from 47 villages to completely cover Limbang Division.

Thirty-five villages situated along the road from Lawas to the Ba’kelalan highlands will be supplied in two stages.

The first involves the construction of a new 80km-long 33KV distribution line from Lawas to Long Luping which will support the Rural Electrification Scheme for 15 villages encompassing 281 households by end of 2022.

The second stage involves the extension of this 33KV distribution line to Punang Kelalan in the Ba’kelalan highlands to connect 20 villages encompassing 584 households by end of 2023.

A new 33/11kV substation is also planned as a new injection point for Ba’kelalan.

Sarawak’s Utilities Ministry, in leading the rural electrification initiatives, has also rolled out the Additional and Late Applicant Fund (Alaf) programme to connect newer homes in villages as well as expanding households to the grid.

Since the programme started in 2018, about 582 households in 133 villages in Limbang Division have been connected and connections for 115 households from 24 villages are in progress.

Apart from that, Awang Tengah who is also the Second Minister of Urban Development and Natural Resources called for closer collaboration between ministries, Resident and District Offices, local service centres, and Sarawak Energy to identify villagers in need of the Alaf assistance programme.

Among those who attended the meeting were Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Henry Sum Agong, Assistant Minister of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development Datuk Dr Abdul Rahman Ismail and Batu Danau assemblyman Paulus Palu Gumbang.

Representing Sarawak Energy were Group Chief Executive Officer Datu Sharbini Suhaili, Executive Vice-President for Project Delivery Pramod Kumar Karunakaran, Vice-President for Rural Electrification Dr Chen Shiun, Vice-President for Distribution Yusri Safri and General Manager (Transmission Line Projects) Shawn Liu. — DayakDaily