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Ex-soldier puts wind in Bac Lieu's sails

Update: February, 15/2015 - 17:28

Army veteran To Hoai Dan or Sau Dan from the southernmost province of Ca Mau devoted almost a decade to researching, investing and developing a wind power project in the neighbouring province of Bac Lieu. The General Director of Cong Ly Company spoke to Thanh Ha about the project, now worth nearly VND6,000 billion (US$300 million).

Inner Sanctum: What are your ideas about wind power and why does it appeal to you so much?

After I returned home from the army in 1986, I noticed that there are no storms in the coastal areas of the country's southern region of Ca Mau and Bac Lieu, which enjoy sunshine and ample wind throughout the year.

Therefore, I decided to explore the idea of harnessing wind power in the region for which I had to conduct exhaustive research. A short while later I hired consultants from foreign countries to conduct research about the hydrometeorological conditions of the region's coastal areas. To deepen the research, I also flew to the United States to hire a company specialising in estimating the feasibility of projects.

They brought modern machines and equipment to Bac Lieu to measure and collect technical parameters about wind, rain and soil, and took home samples of land and mud for research purposes.

The results are as follows: The Bac Lieu seas completely satisfy the requirements for building a wind power farm.

I was very happy with the results. I immediately prepared a project feasibility report to be submitted to the Ministries of Trade, Planning and Investment. Very soon, I received an approval from the Government for the project.

Inner Sanctum: What is the advantage and disadvantage of carrying out a wind power project in the southern province's Vinh Trach Dong Commune?

At the time, building a wind power farm off-shore was considered a strange idea. Most local leaders did not believe or support me, except Vo Van Dung, the party secretary of Bac Lieu.

He tried his utmost to convince other leaders and people by saying that: "Harnessing hydroelectricity leads to loss of forest cover, producing thermo­electricity results in greenhouse emissions. It is only wind power that gives clean energy, is environment-friendly and offers sustainable development."

Dung's efforts paid off. The authorities agreed to my proposal and we started the project with a lot of difficulties in laying the foundation. In developed countries, workers use a crane to lift giant concrete pillars, but here we used the pulley system.

Creating the foundation was most difficult because of the different high and low tides, which fluctuated daily. Despite all this, we followed the designs produced by professional US-based designers to ensure that each pillar was 90 metres high and weighed 60 tonnes, and should not lean, even if there is a big storm with a wind speed of more than 200 kilometres per hour.

We only have six technicians operating 10 wind power generators via computers. If the wind is too light or too strong, the computers automatically direct the propellers to stop operating or adjust the turbines' operation to face the strongest wind direction so that it can produce optimum results.

As a result, the first 10 wind power turbines with a capacity of 16 megawatt (MW) each had joined the national electricity grid by May 2013 and were producing 42 million kilowatt/hour per year (kW/h/year).

Inner Sanctum: How have things been progressing after the first phase took off?

We started the second phase of the project in November, 2013 with 52 turbines that possess a designed capacity of 83.2MW, with a total investment of VND4,173 billion (US$195 million). The work is expected to finish by June, 2016 and will add a total wind power output of about 83 million kW/h/year to the national grid.

We also intend to collaborate very soon with Bac Lieu Province for the third phase of the project, which will have a capacity of 480MW.

When the project is completely finished, Bac Lieu will become the biggest wind farms in the Mekong River Delta and also in the country.

Inner Sanctum: How have authorities reacted to the project?

When we visited Bac Lieu recently, Vuong Dinh Hue, the head of the Central Economics Committee, appreciated the project, which has helped people explore the lucrative potential of the sea, which had remained untapped earlier.

Hue told us to help Bac Lieu tap the wind power for developing eco­tourism, and combine it with raising seafood. This will create more jobs for the local residents.

Inner Sanctum: Do the local residents feel that the project has benefited them and improved their living standards?

Farmer Phan Van Toan from the Vinh Trach Dong Commune told me that his fellow villagers have benefited from the sea dike and asphalt road, as well as from the electricity grid running along the dike. Many households' living standards have improved immensely, owing to their current access to wind power, which has helped them develop mass shrimp ponds in close proximity to one another.

Toan said to me, "In the past, we often had to work for somebody in the surrounding villages. Now we can stay at home to raise shrimp and take part in other trading services, thanks to the Bac Lieu wind power plant.

"It provides us with a regular power supply at affordable prices, compared with power from the national network, which is often erratic.

"Our cultural life is much better than in the past because our elderly parents and children can watch TV for entertainment and learn things about our country and the world. Although we live in a remote area, we are able to stay up to date."

Many poor villagers have also come up to me to express their thanks and said they are very happy to live in spacious houses now, compared with the earlier temporary huts built along the sea.

Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us some more about the changes that have taken place in the commune?

If you get a chance to visit the commune, you can see high rises built close to the shore, which are owned by the Khmer ethnic group, who used to be the poorest community in the past.

The project has made the once poor people's land 'golden'.

Inner Sanctum: Are there any other activities you are involved in apart from harnessing wind power?

I have tried to reduce spending and save money to help poor families, particularly those who have devoted themselves to the national revolution.

Every year since 2000, I often donate a billion dong to the social wellfare funds.

Despite facing difficulties, I always tell myself to do my utmost and fulfil the responsibility of helping my homeland thrive. — VNS

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