Khamis, 14 April 2011

Who’s ‘blocking’ solar power to longhouses?

A German company is threatening to plunge a longhouse in Layar constituency into darkness again because the state government is playing pucks with it.
KUCHING: Five hundred Ibans in Rumah Ringkai longhouse in Kerapa Spak, Betong, may soon have to junk their satellite phones, fridges, computers and television sets and return to kerosene lamps and generators because the state government has failed to honour an understanding it had with German company IBC Solar.
IBC Solar, which installed the widely reported solar hybrid system (SHS) in a longhouse “accessible only by boat, on foot or by air,” is threatening to shut down the system if the state government is not interested in pursuing similar projects for other longhouses in the state.
It has given Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s government until June 2011 to make good on its promise to IBC Solar or there will, literally speaking, be no light in Rumah Ringkai.

The RM4.5 million SHS project, which is part of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) development programme to improve lives in the rural areas, took six months to complete.
In April 2010, Rumah Ringkai’s SHS system became operational as part of IBC Solar’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme. It took six months to complete.
The company had responded to Taib’s call in early 2009 for an alternative and more economical form of power for the rural longhouses.
Following a detailed presentation to the state government, IBC Solar offered to install one SHS project in a longhouse, to be identified by the state.
Rumah Ringkai longhouse, which is in Kerapa Spak, Betong, in Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu Numpang’s constituency, was chosen to benefit from the programme.
In April last year, IBC Solar announced that it was ready to power the longhouse and in a much hyped exercise, brought light into the lives of 45 Iban homes.
Lauding the project, Taib had said then that the “government had now come up with a sustainable and environmentally friendly solar power system” which would be installed in more interior rural areas such as Pualau Bruit, Batang Sadong, Ulu Baram, Ulu Lawas and Limbang.
He said that the federal government had allocated RM200 million for this alternative energy scheme.
It has been a year since SHS has been in operation and neither Taib nor his officers have made any attempt to take the project further.
Said an IBC Solar source: “We’ve been waiting to hear from them (government). The project is a succes and the villagers are very happy. We don’t understand why the government is delaying its next move.”
Meanwhile, a government source, when contacted by FMT, said that they were aware of the project but declined to explain the issues or the status of the RM200 million federal allocation for the alternative power programme.
The source, however, did admit that SHS “has completely changed lives in the longhouse”.
“Before, they were using generators and kerosene. Kerosene is very expensive. Just to have two hours of electricity a day, they would have to spend at least RM10, maybe RM12, on fuel. So most Ibans in longhouse live by the sun.
“Their days are only as long as there is sunlight.
“Schoolgoing children suffered as in many cases they have just one tiny lamp to do their homework and another in the kitchen area.
“But since April they have 24-hour electricity supply; you can imagine their life now,” he said.
A political contact familiar with Layar constituency and the Rumah Ringkai project, when approached, said the delay was probably due to “corruption”.
“You know German businessmen… they are quite straight. They don’t like to grease palms and fix the book (accounting). I think that is the problem here.
“Remember this is Jabu’s constituency and Awang Tengah (Ali Hassan, State Planning and Resource Management Minister II and State Public Utilities Minister) is in charge of allocating funds and projects,” he said.

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